Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nature and ART: What the Environment Does For Our Minds

After writing about how the natural environment is beneficial toward creativity, I went on a very focused mission toward finding out more about what nature can do for the brain. 

I mean, everyone reading this knows that nature has a profound effect on people, but generalized knowledge and focused knowledge are at totally opposite ends of the spectrum.  I wanted something that would grip me.  Something that would make me say,




And so...  I did.  I found it.

It's called ART.

No, really.  That's what it's called.  I swear.

Painter wearing a beret, standing at an easel with a pallet and a brush dripping red paint.
No, not that kind of ART.

ART stands for Attention Restoration Theory.  What does that mean, then?
Attention Restoration Theory is exactly what it sounds like.  

It's the theory that nature has the ability to restore the mind.  It can increase focus, relaxation, positive thoughts, etc.  It's not just something talked about in alternative healing circles.  It has actually been studied pretty extensively throughout the globe.

For example, in Finland it was discovered that restorative experiences were more frequent in favored natural environments in urban areas (such as parks) than they were in favored built structures (such as gyms).  It was also discovered that people with higher stress levels visited their favored places less than those with lower stress levels.

Spectacular reason to go outdoors, I think!

In a research report from the University of Michigan entitled, The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature, it was concluded that walking through nature, or even just viewing nature in photos, had the ability to improve cognitive functioning. 

Be aware, however, that the two experiments the Michigan report spoke about were extremely small, so in reality, all we have is a very good reason to want more research done on the subject. 

So, why the heck aren't more researchers looking into this?

Well, I think the first statement in the University of Michigan report introduction sums up the answer pretty well:
"Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily
available, and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost."
Specifically, the words zero cost.

Pharmaceutical companies sell drugs. Imagine those drugs no longer being needed by some of  the people that currently use them.  Now think about how much money the drug companies wouldn't be getting.

Now consider how much research is funded by pharmaceutical companies.

I think you know where I'm going here...

Get the word out.  

Nature is good for bodies and minds. More than that, though, nature is necessary.

Take it from the lady that went off to play a baseball inspired game using a gigantic branch and a bunch of pinecones.

Nature makes a huge difference in our overall mental processes.  Spending time within the natural  environment is essential to a healthy mind.

Now go create some ART!

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