Hiking can make you Smarter!
Hiking can make you Smarter!
Strange, but true…
A recent Research Report in the publication Psychological Science, “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature”, shows that test subjects perform better on tests after exposure to nature – proof that hiking can make you smarter.
Imagine a therapy which has no known side effects, is readily available, and can improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost. Such a therapy has been known to philosophers, writers,
and laypeople alike, namely – interacting with nature. Many have suspected that nature can promote improved mental functioning and overall well-being, and these effects have recently been documented.
This research is based on past research that showed the separation of attention into two components: involuntary attention, where attention is captured by inherently intriguing or important stimuli, and voluntary or directed attention, where attention is directed by conscious-control processes.
The researchers compared the restorative effects on cognitive functioning of interactions with natural versus urban environments. Attention restoration theory (ART) provides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities. 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.
Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative.
Interacting with environments rich with inherently fascinating stimuli (e.g., sunsets) invoke involuntary attention modestly, allowing directed-attention mechanisms a chance to replenish. That is, the requirement for directed attention in such environments is minimized, and attention is typically captured in a bottom-up fashion by features of the environment itself. So, the logic is that, after an interaction with natural environments, one is able to perform better on tasks that depend on directed-attention abilities. Unlike natural environments, urban environments contain bottom-up stimulation
(e.g., car horns) that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention to overcome that stimulation (e.g., avoiding traffic, ignoring advertising, etc.), making urban environments less restorative.
Two separate experiments validated this theory and demonstrated that walking in nature or even viewing
pictures of nature significantly improved directed-attention abilities. These tests further showed that the highly-reliable improvement was independent of the subjects (college students) moods, time, weather, and season. In addition, the students returning from the nature walks, and even the nature slideshows, reported improved relaxation and mood elevation.
So there we have it – exposure to nature, like hiking, makes you smarter, happier, and more relaxed. What more justification do you need. Get out there!
Ref: Berman, M. G., Jonides, J & Kaplan, S., 2008, ‘The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature’, Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212. See the full (geeky) scientific research report at http://www.umich.edu/~jlabpsyc/pdf/2008_2.pdf
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