It is no mystery to some that a simple walk in nature has restorative powers even to your mental health. Researchers from the University of Michigan studied the effects of urban environments on mental focus. The research is the first to measure the deleterious effects of urban environments on mental focus. The results, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that connecting with nature boosts mental clarity, helping us cope with challenging tasks.
Psychologists Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan from the University of Michigan, designed two tests to measure the ability of a group of volunteers to complete a task that required attention and memory. The results showed that spending time amidst skyscrapers, stores and restaurants negatively influences our mental processes. Conversely, a walk in the park improved the volunteer's performance.
To qualify their findings, the psychologists first engaged a group of volunteers in completing a challenging task. The group then took a walk either in downtown Ann Arbor, or in a park, returning to the lab for retesting.
The researchers were surprised to find that those who walked in the park performed significantly better during the memory and attention tasks than those who walked downtown. They also found that just looking at photographs of nature, versus city scenes facilitated mental clarity, proving that reconnecting with nature improves performance by improving mental clarity.
The authors suggest that urban environments are confusing to the senses. The constant stimulus makes it difficult to sort through and interpret our surroundings. Natural environments are more aesthetic, providing the senses with a renewal process that restores our mental clarity. The authors write…"being in the context of nature is effortless, permitting us to replenish our capacity to attend and thus having a restorative effect on our mental abilities".
Employers should take special note of the research findings. The study results show that we need to take the restorative powers of nature seriously. Many health professionals incorporate healing with nature, or ecopsychology into their practice to help others cope with chronic disease, fight depression, reduce stress, and bring more happiness into their lives. The current study shows that we might all benefit from a refocus on the healing powers of nature.