Nature scenes 'help brain function'
Published 14/09/2010 | 15:03
Tranquil environmental scenes, such as the sea or a beach, can positively affect the human brain function, according to research published.
Scenes containing natural features cause distinct brain areas to become "connected" with one another while man-made environments, such as motorways, disrupt the brain connections.
The research could have implications for the design of more tranquil public spaces and buildings, such as hospitals. The research, which was published in the journal NeuroImage, uses functional brain imaging to assess how the environment impacts upon our brain functions.
The team carried out functional brain scanning at the University of Sheffield to examine brain activity when people were presented with images of beaches and motorway scenes. They used 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 both images while they listened to the same sound.
Using 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.
The non-tranquil motorway scenes disrupted connections within the brain.
Dr Michael Hunter, from Sheffield Cognition and Neuroimaging Laboratory (SCANLab) based at the University of Sheffield, 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."
Professor Peter Woodruff, also from SCANLab, added: "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.
"The project was a real collaborative effort, bringing together researchers from psychiatry, radiology and architecture at the University of Sheffield, as well as engineering at the University of Bradford and the Institute of Medicine and Neuroscience in Julich, Germany."