Neuroscience

Articles and news from the latest research reports.

446 notes

Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park

Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.

With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty — or, in other words, me.

But an innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park.

image

The idea that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration is not new. Researchers have long theorized that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.

But this theory, while agreeable, has been difficult to put to the test. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live primarily amid concrete, and that children with attention deficits tend to concentrate and perform better on cognitive tests after walking through parks or arboretums. More directly, scientists have brought volunteers into a lab, attached electrodes to their heads and shown them photographs of natural or urban scenes, and found that the brain wave readouts show that the volunteers are more calm and meditative when they view the natural scenes.

But it had not been possible to study the brains of people while they were actually outside, moving through the city and the parks. Or it wasn’t, until the recent development of a lightweight, portable version of the electroencephalogram, a technology that studies brain wave patterns.

For the new study, published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh attached these new, portable EEGs to the scalps of 12 healthy young adults. The electrodes, hidden unobtrusively beneath an ordinary looking fabric cap, sent brain wave readings wirelessly to a laptop carried in a backpack by each volunteer.

The researchers, who had been studying the cognitive impacts of green spaces for some time, then sent each volunteer out on a short walk of about a mile and half that wound through three different sections of Edinburgh.

The first half mile or so took walkers through an older, historic shopping district, with fine, old buildings and plenty of pedestrians on the sidewalk, but only light vehicle traffic.

The walkers then moved onto a path that led through a park-like setting for another half mile.

Finally, they ended their walk strolling through a busy, commercial district, with heavy automobile traffic and concrete buildings.

The walkers had been told to move at their own speed, not to rush or dawdle. Most finished the walk in about 25 minutes.

Throughout that time, the portable EEGs on their heads continued to feed information about brain wave patterns to the laptops they carried.

Afterward, the researchers compared the read-outs, looking for wave patterns that they felt were related to measures of frustration, directed attention (which they called “engagement”), mental arousal and meditativeness or calm.

What they found confirmed the idea that green spaces lessen brain fatigue.

When the volunteers made their way through the urbanized, busy areas, particularly the heavily trafficked commercial district at the end of their walk, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused, attentive and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative.

While traveling through the park, the walkers were mentally quieter.

Which is not to say that they weren’t paying attention, said Jenny Roe, a professor in the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University, who oversaw the study. “Natural environments still engage” the brain, she said, but the attention demanded “is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection,” and providing a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands of typical, city streets.

Of course, her study was small, more of a pilot study of the nifty new, portable EEG technology than a definitive examination of the cognitive effects of seeing green.

But even so, she said, the findings were consistent and strong and, from the viewpoint of those of us over-engaged in attention-hogging urban lives, valuable. The study suggests that, right about now, you should consider “taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”

-by Gretchen Reynolds, The New York Times

Filed under brain brain fatigue stress anxiety cortisol mental fatigue EEG psychology neuroscience science

  1. helpingpetsbehave reblogged this from neurosciencestuff and added:
    I bet the same is true for dogs. No wonder they enjoy walks so much!
  2. sassafras-manson reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  3. askmenomore reblogged this from scinerds
  4. beginswithz reblogged this from scinerds
  5. panda-tracks reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  6. weenlebowski reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  7. theewanderingkind reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  8. scorpshirl reblogged this from scinerds
  9. pastis-prologue reblogged this from slothmonday
  10. caterfree10 reblogged this from papahojo
  11. a-little-harmed-shinra reblogged this from scinerds
  12. expertfieldmouse reblogged this from scinerds
  13. leechington reblogged this from papahojo
  14. papahojo reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  15. catpeas reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  16. mizelaneus reblogged this from luminousradar
  17. officialcharlemagne reblogged this from scinerds
  18. omfy reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  19. slothmonday reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  20. acarbonbasedlifeform reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  21. s0ph1sticated reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  22. mushypal reblogged this from scinerds
  23. pseudopsychostuff reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  24. argentarachnids reblogged this from scinerds
  25. runningwith-knives reblogged this from scinerds
  26. aclowza reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
  27. rakshar reblogged this from scinerds
  28. learningtocultivatejoy reblogged this from neurosciencestuff and added:
    Neat. And I thought taking a two hour break from work to walk around and then eat my lunch in Wash Park today was just...
  29. rachellereseau reblogged this from neurosciencestuff
free counters