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.
So says researchers from the University of Michigan in Cognitive Benefits of Nature Interaction (Psychological Science, December 2008).
They're looking at a side-effect free, zero-cost, readily available therapy to improve your cognitive functioning. All it takes is a walk in the park.
Or an afternoon at the beach. Or a weekend camping. Interacting with nature is the key: escaping, however briefly, the insistent demands of common urban and suburban environments. And there's more to it than just quiet vs. loud.
It's not that the natural environments offer any less stimulation, but it's of a different kind. Urban environments tend to capture attention dramatically and require additional directed attention. Natural environments are as rich, if not richer, but tend to invoke involuntary attention more modestly, allowing directed attention mechanisms a chance to rest and recoup. Interaction with nature improves your ability to perform directed-attention tasks—things you need to concentrate on.
So if you find you're in need of a recharge, get out of the office, and find yourself a spot of nature. It's just what the doctor ordered to improve your cognitive functioning.