In our rushed and busy lives who has time to contemplate nature? We live in big urban centers, rush to work, rush home to do household chores and many of us even go to a second job in order to pay the bills and have some extra money.
A study, just published in Psychological Science, reported on a piece of research conducted at the University of Michigan. In the study, subjects were asked to study numbers which they had to remember and repeat backwards sometime later. They were then asked to participate in one of two activities. Some of the subjects walked through an arboretum while others walked through city streets. What were the results of the study?
You probably guessed that the students who walked through the arboretum performed better on the memory test than those who walked through city streets. In fact, in another experiment, even those who viewed pictures of nature versus pictures of urban centers performed better on memory tests. Why?
The explanation seems to go back to that early psychological writer, William James. He theorized that there are two types of attention, "involuntary attention," and "directed attention."
In directed attention, a lot of effort is put into doing a task such as memorizing numbers in the experiment. Involuntary attention is relaxed as exemplified by the walk in the arboretum. The participants rated the experience as very pleasant as opposed to those who walked through city streets.
After having memorized the list of numbers, the people who walked through the arboretum were able to be very relaxed. They did not have to make any effort at focusing attention.
According to the researchers, involuntary attention used in the arboretum, preserved lots of energy necessary for the memory test ahead. For those who walked through the urban center, directed attention continued to be used because of all the distracting stimuli surrounding a noisy and busy urban center. In other words, the extraneous stimuli competed for their cognitive and mental energies, resulting in a depletion of energy needed for the memory test.
The researchers conclude that it is healthy to take time out for a walk in the park. Nature is relaxing and actually frees up psychic energy for things that have to be done later in the day. It is important to view this as a good investment. The time spent on a leisurely walk in the woods pays dividends later on in increased energy and decreased stress. That is why parks such as Central Park in New York are so very important. It is instructive and interesting to notice the numbers of people relaxing in the park during the middle of the work week and day. They may not know it consciously, but, that lunch break lounging on the grass on the Great Lawn is time very well spent.
So, even if you are very busy, even if you are at work, even if you have children at home for whom you are responsible, go out to the park for a stroll. It will help you perform better at work as opposed to staying at your desk during lunch. Or, pack up the kids and take all of you to the park and enjoy the stroll together.
Got nothing to do during the weekend? Go to the park, take that stroll, enjoy nature, its the best anti depressant.
Your comments and questions are encouraged.