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Nature’s tranquility helps brain connect

U. SHEFFIELD (UK)—Human brain function is positively affected by tranquil living environments, according to a new study that used functional brain imaging.

The findings demonstrate 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.

Details are published in the journal NeuroImage.

Researchers utilized the fact that waves breaking on a beach and traffic moving on a motorway produce a similar sound, perceived as a constant roar.

Study participants were presented with images of tranquil beach scenes and non-tranquil motorway scenes while they listened to the same sound associated with both.

Brain scanning that measures brain activity 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.

“People experience tranquility as a state of calmness and reflection, which is restorative compared with the stressful effects of sustained attention in day-to-day life, says Michael Hunter, from the department of neuroscience at Sheffield University.

“It is well known that natural environments induce feelings of tranquility whereas man-made, 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 tranquility.”

“This work may have implications for the design of more tranquil public spaces and buildings, including hospitals,” says Peter Woodruff, “because it provides a way of measuring the impact of environmental and architectural features on people’s psychological state.”

Researchers from the University of Bradford and the Institute of Medicine and Neuroscience at Jülich, Germany contributed to the study.

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