Being in Nature Boosts Your Mental Focus

Greg Howard
24th January, 2024

Being in Nature Boosts Your Mental Focus

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Recent research suggests that the hustle and bustle of city life might be overtaxing our brains, leading to mental weariness. Alternatively, spending time in nature is associated with regaining our mental focus and energy. Prior studies have explored this idea using surveys and simple tests, but the brain-based processes behind these effects weren't fully understood. Now, a new study has used brain-scanning technology to investigate how nature walks might rejuvenate our mental faculties, specifically focusing on attention. In the study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah, 92 people took part in an experiment. They were randomly asked to take a 40-minute walk either through natural surroundings or through a typical urban setting. Before and after their walks, the participants did a test that measures three types of attention: the initial moment of becoming alert, the ability to shift focus when needed, and the ability to oversee and manage thoughts and actions, known as executive control. The results were revealing. Those who had walked in nature felt more mentally refreshed than those who had walked in the city. Moreover, brain scans showed changes in activity associated with executive control for those who strolled through green spaces. These changes were not observed in the brains of the urban walkers. The specific area of focus in the brain scans was a particular signal known as error-related negativity. This brainwave becomes pronounced when individuals make mistakes and have to adjust their behavior, reflecting the brain's executive control in action. In the walkers who enjoyed nature, this signal was enhanced after their walk, suggesting their executive control capacity was improved by the experience. The upshot is a 40-min walk amidst trees and streams appears to not only make us feel better but also directly enhances the part of our brain responsible for attention and focus. This finding sheds light on why nature might be just what we need to refresh our overstimulated minds.



Main Study

1) Immersion in nature enhances neural indices of executive attention.

Published 22nd January, 2024

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