Researchers wanted to see what effect a mere walk in the woods would have on people’s memory. So they gave participants some challenging memory tasks – they had to recite lists of numbers backwards.
Then they had half the participants take a walk in nature and the other half walk around the city.
Then all participants took the same test again.
The results: Those who took a walk in the urban environment had the same performance on the second memory task as they did before. Those who took a nature walk improved their performance by 20%.
In subsequent experiments, just showing participants images of nature also had positive effects on memory.
Researchers think Attention Restoration Theory (ART) has the answer. This theory suggests that there are at least two types of attention:
1. Involuntary attention in which attention is captured by intriguing stimuli. When this type of attention is activated you can pay attention effortlessly.
2. Directed attention in which attention is directed by cognitive-control processes. In laymen’s terms this means you must put in more mental effort to manage attention. The mind has to think, respond and choose.
Natural environments are easy to pay attention to. Our brains naturally become fascinated by sunsets, green forests or mountain vistas. These things we pay attention to effortlessly. And as a result, our ability to use our directed attention for tasks like memorizing are restored.
When you are in an urban environment, your mind must manage it’s attention. If a car horn blasts, your mind must choose to decide if it’s something you need to pay attention to or not. And if not, keep it from interfering with other things you are paying attention to. If there are cars you must pay attention to them so you can avoid them if necessary. If there are billboards you decipher them or ignore them. All of these processes use up energy. They keep you from restoring your facility for directed attention.
The wonderful thing about this piece of research is that it’s so easy to use this information to improve your life. You don’t have to spend any money or learn any new techniques.
Just go outside and take a walk or view some nature photos. Do this to restore your ability to pay attention, improve your memory and increase your enjoyment of life.
What could be a better excuse to go outside?
Will you use this idea to improve your performance? Let me know what you think of this research in the comments below.
Reference to article above:
Psychological Science. 2008 Dec;19(12):1207-12. The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S.