Going outside -- even in the cold -- improves memory, attention

December 16, 2008,

(PhysOrg.com) -- Go outside: It helps improve your focus—even when it's cold out. University of Michigan psychology research in the December issue of Psychological Science explored the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature and found that walking in a park in any season, or even viewing pictures of nature, can help improve memory and attention.

U-M psychology researchers Marc Berman, John Jonides and Stephen Kaplan found memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature.

Researchers believe the findings could have broader impact on helping people who may be suffering from mental fatigue.

"Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating," Berman said. "People don't have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter."

Kaplan and his wife, Rachel Kaplan, a researcher in psychology and the School of Natural Resources and Environment, argue that people are far more likely to be satisfied with their lives when their environment supports three basic needs: the ability to understand and explore; to feel they make a difference; and to feel competent and effective.

Berman decided to test that theory by sending study participants on walking routes around Ann Arbor. Participants walked on an urban route down main streets and also on a route in U-M's Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, taking in nature. When participants walked in the Arboretum, they improved their short-term memory by 20 percent, but showed no improvements after walking down city streets.

The researchers also tested the same theory by having subjects sit inside and look at pictures of either downtown scenes or nature scenes and again the results were the same: when looking at photos of nature, memory and attention scores improved by about 20 percent, but not when viewing the urban pictures.

Provided by University of Michigan

Explore further: The 'real you' is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want

Related Stories

The 'real you' is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want

September 19, 2018
We all want other people to "get us" and appreciate us for who we really are. In striving to achieve such relationships, we typically assume that there is a "real me". But how do we actually know who we are? It may seem simple ...

Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can be very difficult to spot – and can cause brain damage

September 20, 2018
Carbon monoxide (CO), like many gases, cannot be detected by our human senses. We cannot see it, smell it or taste it. But unlike many gases, small amounts are extremely harmful to us.

Your teen is underestimating the health risks of vaping

September 17, 2018
Teens today are more reluctant to smoke cigarettes than their counterparts nearly three decades ago, according to a study released this summer. But parents should hold their collective sigh of relief. The study, carried out ...

What is your first memory – and did it ever really happen?

September 4, 2018
I can remember being a baby. I recall being in a vast room inside a doctor's surgery. I was passed to a nurse and then placed in cold metal scales to be weighed. I was always aware that this memory was unusual because it ...

Study links aortic stiffness with lower cerebral blood flow

August 31, 2018
Greater aortic stiffness is related to lower cerebral blood flow, especially among individuals with increased genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease, according to research from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Severely traumatised refugees may not necessarily develop PTSD

September 4, 2018
Heavily traumatized people such as refugees fleeing war, torture and natural catastrophes may not necessarily develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study reveals.

Recommended for you

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

It's not just for kids—even adults appear to benefit from a regular bedtime

September 21, 2018
Sufficient sleep has been proven to help keep the body healthy and the mind sharp. But it's not just an issue of logging at least seven hours of Z's.

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Most nations falling short of UN targets to cut premature deaths from chronic diseases

September 21, 2018
People in the UK, US and China have a higher risk of dying early from conditions like cancer, heart disease and stroke than people in Italy, France, South Korea and Australia.

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

9 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

moj85
3.5 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2008
perhaps the increased-attention effect of outside 'smoke breaks' is simply an effect of going outside?
kerry
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2008
I'd like to (unscientifically) confirm this based on personal experience. I get a lot more homework done when I'm studying outside than when I'm indoors.
Suzu
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2008
This is true, I get a lot more attentive and clear when I walk outside. Also my imagination takes a huge lvl up.
Hungry4info2
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2008
I'll throw in my own little pseudoconfirmation.

I, too, think better outside.
Mauricio
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2008
"Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating," = this is not true, absolutely not true...

However, I do know that going outside into natural settings is beneficial for many psychological processes.
gmurphy
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2008
if I'm stuck on a particularly uncooperative programming problem, I find that going for a long walk in the countryside facilitates the emergence of the solution.
fleem
3 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
Although its been pretty common knowledge for a long time, its still wonderful to see it proven. I'm taking more walks! Also, there's more room to pace and talk to yourself.
twango
not rated yet Dec 17, 2008
Beethoven got good results from long nature walks. So did Niels Bohr.

Nature helps keep us grounded in reality. I 'spect it's hardwired.
rfw
not rated yet Dec 21, 2008
Natural settings are rich with fractal patterning. Does exposure to 'pure' graphic fractals have a similar effect? Also, it is interesting that walks don't seem to parse differently than sitting. Does cross-crawl activity of motion change affect the effect?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.