Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Tranquil Scenes Calm The Mind

The roar of waves on a beach and the roar of traffic have very different effects on the mind, as researchers from the University of Sheffield have shown in research published today. Of course this is an example of science declaring what common sense has known for years, but it is intriguing to see what actually happens in the brain when stimulated by differing environments and it is hoped that these findings will influence the fields of architecture and urban planning in the future. Years ago, psychologists showed us that green rooms were more calming and we have had to suffer in green ever since. If this new information is taken on board, perhaps we can look forward to more waterfalls and green spaces in our cities.

It appears from the research that, given the same aural stimulus, the mind reacts very differently depending on the visual context. Participants in the study were shown imagery of tranquil beach scenes and busy traffic while listening to the same roaring sound. Imaging the brain activity showed that distinct connections were made between different parts of the brain in the tranquil scenarios and that these were more fragmented in the non-tranquil scenarios. The improved connections within the brain demonstrated a more calmly functioning state of mind.

The multidisciplinary research team included scholars 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 at J├╝lich, Germany. They are clearly all drawn from disciplines with a vested interest in the results of the work and will be able to implement the findings in influencing their fields in the future.

Being able to see the very real effects on the brain of natural and tranquil scenes as opposed to busy man-made ones may also encourage us to make some changes to our day to day environment in order to induce an improvement in our psychological state. Adding some greenery to the workplace, taking a walk outdoors, or positioning a desk with a better view of nature will be worth the effort and go a long way to helping us to stay calm through the day.

The full article is published in the journal NeuroImage under: Hunter, M.D., Eickhoff, S.B, Pheasant, R.J., Douglas, M.J., Watts, G.R., Farrow, T.F.D., Hyland, D., Kang, J, Wilkinson, I.D., Horoshenkov, K.V., Woodruff, P.W.R, `The state of tranquility: Subjective perception is shaped by contextual modulation of auditory connectivity´, NeuroImage 2010; 53: 611-618.

Source: The University of Sheffield Media Centre

By Seymour Jacklin (14/09/10)

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