As I wrote in an earlier post (Cognitive Ergonomics; June 2010), cognitive ergonomics is a branch of ergonomics that deals with how the brain interacts with a task and how this can be optimized. In a working sense, the purpose of cognitive ergonomics is to allow your brain understand things more clearly and quickly. One way to help your brain understand things is to redesign equipment and/or tasks. An example of this would be to redesign a user manual so information can be found easily and rewriting the manual so that explanations are clearer. But what about other outside factors that affect mental cognition? Are there other more organic things that can help your brain be more efficient and creative? This came to mind recently while reading this article: “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature”; Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan; Department of Psychology, Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan http://www.umich.edu/~jlabpsyc/pdf/2008_2.pdf The authors were interested in exploring links in cognition to natural environments vs. urban environments as related to the Attention Restoration Theory (ART). The ART is a belief that being in nature will improve concentration by allowing involuntary attention to take over while giving voluntary attention a time to replenish (involuntary attention is when you concentrate on things in your environment that are stimulating, while voluntary attention is when you tell your mind to concentrate on something). The authors predicted that once you give your voluntary attention a break, you will be better able to concentrate when you get back to the task at hand. This prophecy was validated as they found that the subjects who walked in nature were able to perform a directed-attention task better that the subjects who walked in a downtown urban environment. In a second task, even just looking at pictures of nature improved performance in the task.
The best thing about the results of this study is that it is so easy to implement nature into our daily lives to improve our concentration and creativity. If you work near a park or nature reserve, walks during the work day will help your attention and focus improve. If you don’t work near nature, looking at pictures of nature allows you the same break in order to recharge your concentration. So sit back, enjoy the view, and work better.