The explanation for this study and its results is, according to lead author Marc Berman, a distinction between two types of attention. The first, voluntary attention, is when we consciously focus on something and the second, involuntary attention, is when something simply grabs our attention.
Our ability to direct voluntary attention is critical in every day life including the completion of cognitive tasks. With that said, it is easily exhausted. This study suggests that escaping into the woods gives the mind a break from voluntary attention and allows it to wander aimlessly, involuntarily engaging with nature. In contrast, when walking city streets, the mind is constantly at work. With traffic lights and crowded streets, people must exert their voluntary attention in order to react to or even block out the distractions. Nature offers a break from this.
Having just returned from a 25 day trip down the Fraser River with the Sustainable Living Leadership Program, I find real value in this study. Spending 24 hours outside each day for 25 days straight proved that the way your mind interacts with the natural environment is extremely different than how it is forced to exert itself in the city. Even with late nights and early mornings, my mind was less fatigued than it is when I am at home in the city. I felt stronger, capable of accomplishing more and mentally relaxed. With that, I challenge everyone to give their mind a break by spending 30-60 minutes outside in a local trail, park or woodlot each day.
For more information on the above mentioned study, please click here.