Nature relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity.
At the Lotus School we know that technology is designed to constantly pull for our attention. But many scientists believe our brains were not made for this kind of information bombardment, and that it can lead to mental fatigue, overwhelm, and burnout, requiring “attention restoration” to get back to a normal, healthy state.
Some researchers believe that being in nature restores depleted attention circuits, which can then help us be more open to creativity and problem-solving.
“When you use your cell phone to talk, text, shoot photos, or whatever else you can do with your cell phone, you’re tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources.”
In one study it was shown that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creativity when compared to a control group of people waiting to take the same hike—in fact, 47 percent more. Although other factors may account for these results—for example, the exercise or the camaraderie of being out together—prior studies have suggested that nature itself may play an important role.
This phenomenon may be due to differences in brain activation when viewing natural scenes versus more built-up scenes—even for those who normally live in an urban environment. In a recent study conducted by Peter Aspinall and colleagues at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, participants who had their brains monitored continuously using mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) while they walked through an urban green space had brain EEG readings indicating lower frustration, engagement, and arousal, and higher meditation levels while in the green area, and higher engagement levels when moving out of the green area. This lower engagement and arousal may be what allows for attention restoration, encouraging a more open, meditative mindset.
Another ongoing study is specifically looking at the effects of technology by monitoring people’s EEG readings while they walk in an arboretum, either while talking on their cell phone or not. So far, it has been found that participants with cell phones appear to have EEG readings consistent with attention overload, and can recall only half as many details of the arboretum they just passed through, compared to those who were not on a cell phone.
Though these findings are preliminary, they are consistent with other people’s findings on the importance of nature to attention restoration and creativity.
“If you’ve been using your brain to multitask—as most of us do most of the day—and then you set that aside and go on a walk, without all of the gadgets, you’ve let the prefrontal cortex recover, and that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being.”
And while the research may not be conclusive there is optimism that science will eventually catch up to what people have intuited all along—that there’s something about nature that renews us, allowing us to feel better, to think better, and to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others.
“If you are constantly on a device or in front of a screen, you’re missing out on something that’s pretty spectacular: the real world.”