The research behind an understanding that natural environments refocus our attention, lessening stress and hastening healing researchers asked a hundred sets of parents with children who suffered from attention deficit disorder how their children responded to different playtime activities.
Children who have ADD are often restless and distracted. But the parents reported that green activities — like fishing and soccer — left their children in a far more relaxed, focused state. It wasn’t that the children who spent time outside were merely happier, more likely to interact with friends, or more active — in fact, those who sat indoors, in a room with natural views, were calmer than children who played outside in man-made environments that were devoid of grass and trees.
What is it that sets natural environments apart from others? Why shouldn’t a quiet streetscape have the same effect as a quiet natural landscape, for example? Architecture has its own beauty, and some people prefer urban environments to natural environments, so why does nature alone seem to have such powerful restorative effects? The answer is that natural environments have a unique constellation of features that sets them apart from man-made locations. The first is directed attention, which enables us to focus on demanding tasks like driving and writing. Reading a book also requires directed attention, and you’ll notice that you start to zone out when you’re tired, or when you’ve been reading for hours at a time. The second form is involuntary attention, which comes easily and doesn’t require any mental effort at all. As James explained, “Strange things, moving things, wild animals, bright things, pretty things, words, blows, blood, etc., etc., etc.” all attract our attention involuntarily.
Nature restores mental functioning in the same way that food and water restore bodies. The business of everyday life — dodging traffic, making decisions and judgment calls, interacting with strangers — is depleting, and what man-made environments take away from us, nature gives back. The difference between natural and urban landscapes is how they command our attention. While man-made landscapes bombard us with stimulation, their natural counterparts give us the chance to think as much or as little as we’d like, and the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources.
Natural environments promote calmness and well-being in part because they expose people to low levels of stress. These stressful experiences are tame in comparison with the trials and tribulations that most of us associate with stress — workplace drama, traffic jams, and wailing children on international plane trips. Humans thrive with some stimulation, but we’re incapable of coping with extreme stressors, which push us from the comfortable realm of eustress (good stress) to the danger zone of distress (bad stress).
This is an excerpt from Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and BehaveTags: add, anxiety, nature, stress