There’s a simple way to reel in your wandering attention: look at some plants. A new study from the University of Melbourne finds that taking in a rooftop covered in plants, even for just a few seconds, can boost concentration.
In research described in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a group of 150 students were assigned a boring task specifically designed to drain their attention. The subjects had to watch a series of random numbers flashing across a computer screen, pressing a key every time a new number came up—unless the number was three, in which case they were instructed not to press anything. Part of the way through the assignment, all the students got a 40-second break.
The images participants looked at during their break. Image Credit: University of Melbourne
During the break, half the participants looked at an image of an urban green roof—a high-rise covered in a flowery meadow. The other half looked at a bare, concrete roof. The students who looked at the green roof were significantly better at their task when they returned to watching numbers flash by. They made fewer errors and were able to concentrate more than the students who looked at the concrete roof.
This study adds to a substantial body of research that suggests that being around nature is good for our mental health, whether it’s walking in a park or looking at an office plant. Plants seem to ease brain fatigue and reduce stress [PDF], among other benefits.