“If taking up mindfulness meditation does not seem

to be a likely course of action for you anytime soon,

there is a simpler way for you to increase your atten-

tion, reduce your stress, and improve your subjective

well-being: Go outside and experience nature. Recent

research suggests that spending even a modest amount

of time outside in natural surroundings—the forest or

woods, a park, perhaps a garden—has restorative ef-

fects that make people more cognitively attentive and

function better emotionally (Berto, 2005; Hartig et al.,

2003; Kaplan, 1995, 2001; Price, 2008b). In one study,

for example, 19 undergraduates spent half an hour walk-

ing around an arboretum near the University of Michi-

gan’s campus, while an equal number of students am-

bled around downtown Ann Arbor (Berman, Jonides,

& Kaplan, 2008, Study 1). When everyone returned to

the lab to complete a battery of stress and short-term

memory measures, the researchers found that the indi-

viduals who strolled in the arboretum had lower stress

levels and heightened attention compared to the control

group who ventured downtown. The explanation is that

natural environments are much less mentally taxing

than urban settings. Intuitively, individuals know that

green and leafy settings are peaceful places that encour-

age them to relax and renew themselves. In contrast,

even medium-sized cities are full of noise and busy dis-

tractions made by cars, buses, people, sirens, and the

like. A second study found similar (though somewhat

weaker) results by having participants look at slides of

either nature scenes or cityscapes (Berman, Jonides, &

Kaplan, 2008,).” (Weiten et al 2011:522)

Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207–1212.

First, i wanted to take a closer look at one of the studies (posted above) to see if it used some obviously bad method. As can be seen, the sample sizes (38 and 12, in test 1 and 2) were pretty small (typical of psychology), but apparently the effects were so large that they cud be detected with such a small sample size. They also repeated the tests a few times with the same participants to get more data. Still, im skeptical of such small sample sizes. But, better than nothing.

The interpretation can also be challenged. The researchers had students walk around a quite park and a noisy road and compared them. I.e, they changed at least two variables (nature vs. city, and noisy vs. quite) at once. In the second test, they tested with only one variable change. That also had an effect, but a smaller one. Perhaps this is becus some of the effect in the first test was becus of the noisy road. I think they shud re-do the first test with a city landscape but without noise. Perhaps do it at night or in a quite part of town. Even better, they can hand the participants sound level meters and see how large the effect of noise is. Perhaps have the participants walk around both noisy with nature (road next to a park or inside a park), nature without noise (small paths inside a park), city with noise (next to highway or other heavily trafficked road) and with no or less noise (quite part of town, at night, work around on campus). Those results wud be interesting to see.

Second, how to use this IRL (the quote is from a textbook on applied psychology)? Walking around a forest alone is too boring for me. I wud need to find some interesting people (or just one person) to walk around with. They need to live close to me and the forest, for practical reasons. They also need a reason to do so (becus it works, as the quote+study above gives reason to think). So, i figured that i shud write about it and show my writings to some friends that live nearby.


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