Recently, we discussed the environmental benefits of urban Greenery in relation to the many health benefits that can be gained from urban planting schemes. The other side of this coin is the issue of mental well-being and how trees can play a strong role in reducing stress and improving mental activity. Many studies are now reporting concrete evidence of the positive effects to living – or simply being – amongst green space. This helps raise further investigation to finding practical ways to plan and landscape green space into a tangible reality.
The Brain and Green Space
Until recently, there has been evidence that greenery aids a more positive state of mind. But now science has found a way of tracking people’s emotional response to natural environments in real-time. The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a report carried out by researchers from the Heriot-Watt School of Built Environment in Edinburgh. The research involved measuring brain-activity of test subjects who journeyed around the city. Mobile devices recorded the differences in sensation and emotions between urban – and natural – spaces. The researchers then analysed the results, looking specifically for patterns indicating heightened or lowered frustration, directed attention (or “engagement”), and meditativeness or calm. The results suggested that “brain fatigue” was largely reduced when the volunteers were surrounded by parkland. When the volunteers made their way, particularly the busy urban area at the end of their walk, their brain patterns suggested that brain-activity and frustration was higher. However, when they walked through the parkland, their brain-wave readings became more meditative.
“Natural environments still engage” the brain, says Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt, but the attention demanded is effortless. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection”.
Positive Effects for All
Hopefully, this kind of concrete evidence may bring some influence to making green space a key part of planning decisions when designing and building new urban developments. But – as pointed out in similar studies going back to 2001 – the positive effects highlighted above have the added benefit of helping reduce crime and other social problems. But other areas of society that may also see benefits. The World Health Organisation reports that mental health is one of the three major causes of worker disability. Based on the above research, contact with green space may go some way toward both aiding productivity and reducing stress in workers, too.
It would appear that we now have measurable evidence that suggests what is good for the planet also seems to be good for the soul.