A team of psychologists from the
University of Michigan set out to determine the effect on mental
processes that occurred when individuals were exposed to either a rural
setting or a bustling urban scene. The study was published in the
journal Psychological Science.
A group of volunteers completed a test
that challenged their attention and memory. Then, half were taken for a
stroll in a city park, while the rest walked in busy downtown Ann
Arbor. After returning to the lab, all were retested. The park walkers
astounded researchers by producing greatly improved results on the
memory and attention tests; the downtown walkers showed no improvement.
Researchers took the study a step
further. Instead of going outside between the initial testing and
follow-up exam, the subjects viewed either nature photographs or
metropolitan scenes. Once again, those who had glimpses of nature
scored higher, while those viewing city panoramas experienced no change.
An environment such as Times Square in
New York City or even a major shopping mall exposes us to a multitude
of complex, disjointed and confusing stimuli. Our brains have to work
hard to sort out, interpret and make sense of it all. A pastoral
setting is easier to process, because the elements fit together in a
harmonious, coherent, peaceful pattern. The effect is relaxing, not
This research confirms earlier work that
indicates humans seem ill-suited to spend all of their time in
artificial man-made environments. In a previous study regarding
hospital patients, those who had a window looking out on a park were
discharged sooner than those who had no view of nature. The big city
still has much to offer, but it is beneficial to occasionally return to
our less-hectic, all-natural roots.