Nature Experience Helps to Overcome Distractions and Build Focus: Study

New Delhi: Human brain has actually been designed to love nature. This phenomenon is called biophilia (bio=life, Philia = love). Living amid nature and appreciating it not only calms down the mind, but it also improves its performance.
In a recent study conducted at the User Experience Lab (UX) Lab, IIT Delhi, it was found that even brief experiences of nature (like a walk in park, garden; taking care of plants in garden, viewing greenery) can help people to concentrate on their tasks in a better way.

The study, ‘Effect of Nature Experience on Fronto-parietal Correlates of Neurocognitive Processes involved in Directed Attention: An ERP study’ has been published in Annals of Neurosciences in April 2021. The research was undertaken by Dr. Pooja Sahni, Research Fellow and Prof. Jyoti Kumar, IIT Delhi.

For long, nature has been seen as a source of peace and energy. Nature has also been sought for increasing health and well-being, as well as inspiring creativity. However, it’s only recently that the scientific community has begun to examine the restorative attributes of the nature. There is a growing interest to understand the underlying transformative processes- psychological, cognitive and neurophysiological, that are activated while in natural surroundings.
This study is an attempt to map the effects of nature experience on our brain processes. Participants were observed while they were presented nature audio/ video as stimuli to evoke experience akin to being in nature albeit in lab settings. The brain activity was examined during the nature experience and while a task was performed both before and after the experiment’.

Findings of this study suggest that nature experience enhances attention as the participants after their nature experience were able to overcome distractions more efficiently.
The underlying neurocognitive processes of inhibitory control mechanisms in the fronto parietal regions of the brain get enhanced post nature experience. Enhanced alpha in frontal and theta in fronto-central regions of the brain indicating a state of relaxation and internalized attention was found associated with nature experience.
Dr. Pooja Sahni, Research Fellow, IIT Delhi said, “Though there is evidence that suggests that viewing nature is inherently rewarding – producing a cascade of positive emotions, yet the underlying neural and cognitive processes have not been fully explored. This paper, in its novel contribution, provides empirical evidence for the neurocognitive processes underlying a mental state which is relaxed yet alert after a brief experience in nature.”
Dr Sahni added, ‘In our present day, most of us are spending more than 90% of our time indoors- most of it in front of TV, computer and mobile screens, even before restrictions due to COVID-19 were imposed. There are reports that such a lifestyle is likely to increase the risk of attentional problems, especially in children. On the other hand, being outdoors with nature, or even a brief interaction with nature through tending to indoor plants can help us build focus in a big way.”
Prof. Jyoti Kumar, Dept. of Design, IIT Delhi said, “This research is particularly useful where we often feel distracted and fatigued due to overarching demands on our attentional resources posed by our jobs. During such times perhaps a walk in the garden or even viewing nature through our window may help us get back to task in hand in a more focused way.”
He added, “Interestingly, importance of nature experience had been emphasised in the vedic culture where ‘aranyakas’ (meaning deliberated in the jungle) were part of the ‘vedas’ emphasising the need to deliberate amidst nature in order to understand the deeper aspects of life.

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