For many, chilling out on vacation means going to a naturally beautiful area away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. New research discovers how these pristine settings ease our stress by improving brain connections.
The research, published in the journal NeuroImage, uses functional brain imaging to assess how the environment affects our brain functions.
The findings demonstrated that tranquil environmental scenes containing natural features, such as the sea, cause distinct brain areas to become connected with one another while man-made environments, such as motorways, disrupt the brain connections.
European researchers carried out functional brain scanning at the University of Sheffield to examine brain activity when people were presented with images of tranquil beach scenes and non-tranquil motorway scenes.
They utilized the fact that waves breaking on a beach and traffic moving on a motorway produce a similar sound, perceived as a constant roar, and presented the participants with images of tranquil beach scenes and non-tranquil motorway scenes while they listened to the same sound associated with both scenes.
Using brain scanning that measures brain activity they showed that the natural, tranquil scenes caused different brain areas to become `connected´ with one another — indicating that these brain regions were working in sync.
However, the non-tranquil motorway scenes disrupted connections within the brain.
Dr. Michael Hunter, from the Sheffield Cognition and Neuroimaging Laboratory (SCANLab) said: “People experience tranquillity as a state of calmness and reflection, which is restorative compared with the stressful effects of sustained attention in day-to-day life.
“It is well known that natural environments induce feelings of tranquillity whereas manmade, urban environments are experienced as non-tranquil. We wanted to understand how the brain works when it perceives natural environments, so we can measure its experience of tranquillity.”
Professor Peter Woodruff, from SCANLab, said: “This work may have implications for the design of more tranquil public spaces and buildings, including hospitals, because it provides a way of measuring the impact of environmental and architectural features on people´s psychological state.”
Source: University of Sheffield