Eva Selhub and Alan Logan’s book Your Brain on Nature references a 2005 study in which people were shown photographs after performing a cognitively demanding task. Some were shown nature scenes, while others were shown urban scenes. Then the two groups were given another cognitively demanding task. Those who looked at nature scenes demonstrated faster reaction times and made fewer mistakes. Similarly, a study of over 100 schools in Michigan showed significant gains in academic performance on standardized tests in classrooms that had views of green vegetation. Most simply put, this research suggests that thinking is best suited to natural environments.
Additionally, viewing nature can alleviate workplace stress. The authors of Your Brain on Nature refer to viewing nature as “visual Valium” and cite some of the earliest examples of studies on nature’s chemical effect on us. By measuring cortisol levels of people who had walked in forests and comparing them with people who walked in urban environments, the Shinrin Yoku studies in Japan found that walking in forest environments reduced stress, hostility, and depression while improving sleep and vigor. Similar studies have found that even the presence of plants or natural images can have similar effects on stress levels. Additionally, nature has implications for office teamwork. A California study found that those who worked with desirable views of nature showed more activity in the opioid receptors, an area that when active, is known for causing people to be less likely to perceive themselves as stressed and more likely to form emotional bonds and focus less on negative memories.
The good news is that people are beginning to recognize the importance of incorporating elements of the natural world into the workspace.