Posted In // Design Tips Office Ergonomics
Nature’s incredible impact on the psycheFascinating research from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland demonstrates that exposure to natural settings automatically relaxes our minds.
It is well-established science that serenity and attention are difficult to maintain in a city environment, with the constant flow of fast-moving stimuli and noise pollution leading to what some call brain fatigue. (The same phenomenon can occur in a busy workplace as well, although office design tactics can limit the toll on productivity.)
Those who choose to live in urban settings often feel that the hustle and bustle comes with the territory and amplifies excitement even as it saps energy. However, brain fatigue – which tends to limit the attention span and cause memory problems – can be dangerous. The researchers revealed the challenges of feeling overwhelmed can be counteracted with a quick and carefree task: taking a walk through the park.
A previous study that is also relevant to green building used a research laboratory to test nature by studying brain waves when individuals were shown pictures of city life and wildlife. Although that research determined the brain undergoes stress in response to urban images, it really studied representations of nature, not nature itself.
The Scottish study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013, was discussed by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/easing-brain-fatigue-with-a-walk-in-the-park/?_r=0. Reynolds reported that the researchers conducted the study by recruiting a dozen healthy individuals, wiring them, and sending them outside. Before the participants departed on their outdoor journeys through streets and parks, scientists attached EEGs to the tops of their heads, obscured them under hats, and programmed the devices to transmit brain scans to laptops. (Thanks to this “real-world” approach, the findings are a stronger argument for businesses to connect nature & design.)
The study authors found that “while traveling through the park, the walkers were mentally quieter.” Their brains became more contemplative, a mental state that could gradually reduce the likelihood of stress-related illnesses.
Green building & attention restoration theory (ART)The body of evidence for the restorative power of nature is substantial. A study published in The Frontal Cortex examined psychology through the lens of Attention Restoration Theory, with obvious ramifications for the relationship between nature & design: “Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish.” http://www.mediate.com/mobile/article.cfm?id=4472&type=
How can these scientific findings be applied to office design? One approach to the incorporation of nature into the workplace is called biophilic design, which essentially aims to integrate living things into all environments. The film Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life, sponsored in part by Yale University, reveals that a biophilic approach improves childhood testing, productivity, and civic engagement. http://www.biophilicdesign.net/