Just looking at nature improves the human brain’s functionality

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While still relatively novel in the United States, so-called “green roofs” — urban rooftops covered with grasses, plants and other types of greenery — are becoming increasingly popular around the world. In France, newly built commercial rooftops must sport either greenery or solar panels, according to a recent law. Facebook, meanwhile, recently installed a massive 9-acre green roof at its office in Menlo Park, Calif.

The Vancouver Convention Center’s six-acre living roof in Vancouver. / Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press

The Vancouver Convention Center’s six-acre living roof in Vancouver. / Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press

The logic is obvious: Green roofs can reduce the retention of heat in urban areas, help to cool down buildings and thereby lower their energy use. …. Plus, they look cool.

But the psychological benefits of green roofs to busy office workers may also be substantial, according to new research. In a study published in the journal Environmental Psychology, the University of Melbourne’s Kate Lee and a group of colleagues found that interrupting a tedious, attention-demanding task with a 40-second “microbreak” — in which one simply looks at a computerized image of a green roof — improved focus as well as subsequent performance on the task.

The research adds to a growing scientific literature on the health advantages — psychological and otherwise — of being exposed to views of nature in urban settings, for instance through the presence of parks or trees. Research in this area is so far along, in fact, that researchers are considering whether it might be possible to identify the right “dose” of nature that people need to receive in order to actually reap significant health benefits.

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