New Research Shows Cognitive Benefits of Natural Areas

urban park image

Photo credit: Milan Italy

Jonah Lehrer, author of the new book called "How We Decide," had an interesting piece in the Boston Globe describing how the city affects the brain. Unfortunately, Lehrer tells us, being in an urban environment damages our basic mental processes. A few minutes spent on a crowded city street apparently reduces the brain's ability to hold things in memory and as well as our self-control. Urbanization, the frenetic energy of dense environments, and the loss of natural areas in our cities all put a strain on the brain.In one study Lehrer cites, Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, outfitted students with GPS receivers. Some of the students went to an arboretum, while others wandered through the streets of downtown Ann Arbor.

"The subjects were then run through a battery of psychological tests," Lehrer writes. "People who had walked through the city were in a worse mood and scored significantly lower on a test of attention and working memory, which involved repeating a series of numbers backwards. In fact, just glancing at a photograph of urban scenes led to measurable impairments, at least when compared with pictures of nature."

"We see the picture of the busy street, and we automatically imagine what it's like to be there," Berman told Lehrer. "And that's when your ability to pay attention starts to suffer."

Fortunately, Lehrer, says, there is hope for those of us urbanites. Time spent among trees and in other green spaces will do a lot to reverse the harmful cognitive effects of the city. He suggests parks and landscapes with the highest amount of plant diversity for optimal benefits. : Via Boston Globe
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