Writer—and city dweller—Florence Williams recently agreed to a unique experiment: she headed into the wilderness with cognitive psychologist Dr. David Strayer and a group of his students from the University of Utah to see how simply being in nature can do wonders for our tired, stressed-out brains.
Not only can immersing ourselves in the natural world have a positive effect on our mood and overall well-being, but something about taking in the beauty of the outdoors enhances our brain function as well. Strayer told Williams and his students that a powerful thing starts to happen after spending just a few days in nature. This “three-day effect,” as Strayer calls it, is a bit like a spa retreat for the brain, giving it time to relax, de-stress, and ultimately perform better afterward.
Throughout the course of their camping trip, Strayer monitored the brain activity of Williams and his students, explaining how spending time in nature essentially takes the pressure off the area of the brain involved with complex tasks such as problem solving and social behavior. In fact, the absence of everyday stressors, coupled with the beauty found in natural spaces, allows the brain to loosen up (so to speak) and think more intuitively.
As for Williams, time spent outdoors seems to have done the trick. Test results of her brain activity during the trip showed noticeably less activity in her prefrontal cortex when compared with those participants who remained in the city. Could it be that we might all benefit from giving our brains a little downtime in nature? Click here to read Williams’ full article, featured January’s National Geographic.