Photo by Samuel Mann via Flickr CC
How do our brains physically react when we're yanked away from all things techy that currently run our lives? A group of five neurologists took a trip to Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area to find out what actually happens to our brains when we remove email, cell phones, text messages, televisions -- even watches -- from our field of vision and daily tasks. During the week-long experiment (that sounds like one of the world's best experiments to be a participant in) the neurologists rafted down the San Juan River, camping along the way, and analyzing how the heavy, perhaps even chronic, use of technology changes how we behave and how a retreat to reconnect with nature reverses the effects. The New York Times reports that the travelers found the slept better, shed the feeling that they need to keep checking for messages, even forgot to wear a watch. But the real finding is in whether or not such detachment brings forward our skills at memory, attention, and learning. Without relying on our iPhones to do everything for us from providing us with directions from point A to point B, to reminding us about meetings, to finding where we parked our car -- even helping us find natural spaces to go enjoy -- does escaping into nature make our brains work better, even be the key to solving problems like ADHD, schizophrenia and depression?
"Attention is the holy grail," Mr. Strayer says."Everything that you're conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it."
And yet attention is what we lack in the age of multitasking, starting at younger and younger ages. Also, the researchers think that to an extent, technology has created a false sense of urgency and a very real level of brain fatigue that impact focus.
The believers are Mr. Strayer and Paul Atchley, 40, a professor at the University of Kansas who studies teenagers' compulsive use of cellphones. They argue that heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety, and that getting out into nature can help. They take pains in their own lives to regularly log off.
Still, the researchers question why our brains don't adapt to the new levels of stimulation, making us better mulitaskers, and whether or not working memory suffers by the simple expectation of more incoming email or messages, how the brain values incoming information, and other possibilities of how technology and the brain do and don't get along. As the week-long experiment continued, the researchers found themselves worrying less about what was going on back at home, and enjoying more the environment through which they were traveling. "The trip didn't transform them, but it did get them to change the way they think about their research -- and themselves," the article states.
While no final conclusions were drawn, the trip did engage the researchers further into how reconnecting with nature rather than gadgets can change how we feel and function. Studies have already shown that spending a little one-on-one with the great outdoors can make us nicer, and even heal faster. It might just make us more sane, too.
Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Connecting to Nature
Hey Kids, Unplug, Get Outside, Because Nature Rocks
Nature Deficit Disorder Tackled at Camp Filled with Power Tools, Danger for Kids
Do You Need Nature Therapy?