Attention Restoration Theory says urban greenspace makes us more productive

University of Melbourne researchers Kate Lee, Kathryn Williams, Leisa Sargent, Nicholas Williams, and Katherine Johnson gave 150 subjects a menial task that involved hitting specific keystrokes when certain numbers flashed on a computer screen.

After five minutes the subjects were given a 40-second break, and an image of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings appeared on their screens. Half the subjects saw a plain concrete roof; the others saw a roof covered with a green, flowering meadow. Both groups then resumed the task. After the break, concentration levels fell by 8% among the people who saw the concrete roof, whose performance grew less consistent.

But among those who saw the green roof, concentration levels rose by 6% and performance held steady.

Attention restoration theory suggests that natural environments have benefits for people.

The theory is that because nature is effortlessly fascinating, it captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it. It doesn’t draw on your attention control, which you use for all these daily tasks that require you to focus.

So gazing at natural environments provides you with an opportunity to replenish your stores of attention control. That’s really important, because they’re a limited resource that we’re constantly tapping.

A lot of environmental psychology research has looked only at how people respond to landscapes like forests and woodlands and parks for much longer time periods.

We’ve been wondering if, well, with most of our population now living and working in cities, we should be thinking about smaller green spaces and shorter breaks.

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