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Take a tree (or a picture of one) to your next mediation: Attention Restoration Theory and the cognitive benefits of nature

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.

Sometimes I post research to get you thinking about the location of, and activities in, conflict resolution in ways that are fresh, fertile, and productive. I would like this post to get you thinking about location. Where do you hold mediations? Meetings? Negotiations?

A soon-to-be-published study "The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature" compared a forest setting with one in the city. The researchers concluded that being in the city was exhausting for the brain. Those who took a walk in nature were better able to perform cognitive tasks than were those who took an urban stroll. Here's the abstract of the study (from The Frontal Cortex):

Attention Restoration Theory (ART) provides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities. Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish. Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative.We present two experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities as measured with a backwards digit-span task and the Attention Network Task, thus validating Attention Restoration Theory.

An easier explanation of the research is provided in this interview at The Take Away of The Frontal Cortex's Jonah Lehrer.

The bottom line is to be aware of location and environment as these factors do have an effect on a person's ability to think well. Long before this research, people such as Thoreau and Einstein have known the recharging and refreshing value of a walk in the woods.

Not near any woods? The researchers found that even looking at a picture of nature had cognitive benefits. What can you do with that information? What's on the walls of the rooms in which you meet? What can you see out the windows?

Please be aware of the many ways you can make any meeting, including those for dispute resolution, more mind- and brain-friendly. And I will continue to post research that assists you in that awareness.

Related articles:

Image credit: paulabflat.


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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