A wealth of research shows that just being in nature, even a city park, can make us feel better, both psychologically and physically. Such contact with nature can improve mood, reduce pain and anxiety, and even help sick or injured people heal faster. But what effect does it have on groups of people and society at large? New research suggests that nature can actually improve the degree to which people feel connected to and act favorably toward others, specifically their neighbors, says Netta Weinstein, a senior psychology lecturer at Cardiff University in Wales.
Looking at all the things they measured, there could be multiple factors that contributed to this correlation, but no matter what they found that nature played some signficant level of impact, and that is a very valuable finding.
Environmental Psychology and conservationists have, for awhile now, been advocating the importance of letting children get out and play in and with nature to educate them on the value of preserving their environment and benefiting from natural surroundings. It’s nice to see pediatricians also start to embrace and advocate for the need for everyone, including children, get outside and get dirty.
Dr. Lawrence Rosen writes that throughout his practice, seeing children on a daily basis, “I’m often reminded of Winslow Homer’s 1872 painting, “Snap the Whip,” depicting boys playing with abandon in a field outside their rural schoolhouse.”
So eloquently portrayed is the simplicity of another time, kids out in the natural world for no other purpose than to play, freely and without a care in the world.Contrast this with contemporary schoolyards with their meticulously designed jungle gyms and artificial surfacing, often empty throughout the day as more and more schools abolish recess or replace free play with highly structured, adult-supervised activities. I’ve realized, as I see increasingly anxious and depressed children come to my office looking for guidance, that the answers often lie not in my prescription pad but outside my window.
One very recent publication from Dr. Kirsten Beyer and associates at the Medical College of Wisconsin described the influence of green space on mental health outcomes, concluding that “higher levels of neighborhood green space were associated with significantly lower levels of symptomology for depression, anxiety and stress” and that “’greening’ could be a potential population mental health improvement strategy in the United States.”
I tweeted about this short film yesterday, but I really feel like this is worth giving some space on the blog for.
The value of play is important for teaching life skills like conflict resolution and collaboration, health lessons, healing from trauma, building community and just overall survival as a child and human being, the work this organization does seems simple but is hugely important.
This short video highlights some of the incredible impact that play can have on a child, or group of children.
Taking time to destress and be creative has great benefits, both physically and mentally. Take knitting, for example:
It turns out that knitting has incredible health benefits. It makes people feel good in just about every way. A bit of research has revealed a wide range of ways in which knitting helps humans cope, physically and mentally.
1. Knitting is used for therapy. It’s a powerful distractant, helping people manage long-term physical pain. For those who are depressed, knitting can motivate them to connect with the world. It is a conversation starter, allowing people to interact politely without making eye contact. It builds confidence and self-esteem.
2. Knitting is supremely relaxing, which is extremely important for reducing stress and anxiety. Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, wrote The Relaxation Response, in which he recommends the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity to elicit “the relaxation response” – decreased heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. Knitting is likened to meditation, sometimes described by knitters as “spiritual” and “Zen-like.”
I have always felt like I SHOULD learn how to knit, but I actually find the idea of having to keep count and keep track of where I’m at stressful, but maybe I should just give it a try. Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.
While most of my blog posts focus on playful design and things that create a playful atmosphere, a lot of us don’t have all of our basic needs met in order to be in a playful state. We are often overstressed, underslept, overworked, and detached from community. Play researchers have found evidence that goes along with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that find we need these things in order to be ready to explore, create, and be healthy. That’s why I also like to talk about what it takes to get us to a space where we feel safe, healthy, and ready to be playful.
Going with the philosophy that gardening is good for the soul, as well as aiming for convenience, a group in Vancouver has opened a huge urban farm and orchard.
Vancouver’s Sole Food Farms has transformed an old gas station into North American’s largest urban orchard! Located in Downtown Eastside, the orchard provides jobs to recovering addicts and those with mental illness, giving them a chance to make a living while raising organic food. The organic fruit, along with produce from three other sites, is sold to local restaurants and grocery stores.
Adding green space to a city, whether it’s a garden, park, or a single tree, has also repeatedly shown to be valuable even to those who just observe the space, they don’t need to even be actively engaged in maintaining it. The garden adds connection to and investment in the land, which is good for building community, and provides a sense of agency for those who might not otherwise have one.
Where have you seen community gardens spring up? What works, what doesn’t? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
What many landscape architects and designers know intuitively is increasingly becoming proven scientifically. In fact, more and more exciting research appears showing the cognitive and mental health benefits of being out in nature — in places like parks, or even just meandering down leafy streets. According to The New York Times, a new study from Scotland shows that “brain fatigue” can be eased by simply walking a half-mile through a park.
In The New York Times’ Well blog, Gretchen Reynolds writes that “scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.”
Green spaces help alleviate brain fatigue because they are “calming” and require “less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets…
Nice interview from Salon with scientist Shimon Edelman about how scientists are discovering neural patterns to the behaviors and activities that make humans happy; turns out the act of learning is often more rewarding than what we learn:
Shimon Edelman, a cognitive expert and professor of psychology at Cornell University, offers some insight in “The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life.” In his new book, Edelman walks the reader through the brain’s basic computational skills – its ability to compute information, perform statistical analysis and weigh value judgments in daily life – as a way to explain our relationship with happiness. Our capacity to retain memories and develop foresight allows us to plan for the future, says Edelman, by using a mental “personal space-time machine” that jumps between past, present and future. It’s through this process of motivation, perception, thinking, followed by motor movement, that we’re able not only to survive, but to feel happy. From Bayes’ theorem of probability to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Edelman offers a range of references and allegories to explain why a changing, growing self, constantly shaped by new experiences, is happier than the satisfaction any end goal can give us. It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most.
As the weekend, approaches, many of us are making plans to go out to events in our local cities, or work around the house, or just sleep in our own beds after several weeks of visiting and traveling. The psychology of home is very important to us humans, and was captured really well in an article by Julie Beck in The Atlantic:
Susan Clayton, an environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster, says that for many people, their home is part of their self-definition, which is why we do things like decorate our houses and take care of our lawns. These large patches of vegetation serve little real purpose, but they are part of a public face people put on, displaying their home as an extension of themselves. It’s hardly rare, though, in our mobile modern society, to accumulate several different homes over the course of a lifetime. So how does that affect our conception of ourselves?
When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there.
For better or worse, the place where we grew up usually retains an iconic status, Clayton says. But while it’s human nature to want to have a place to belong, we also want to be special, and defining yourself as someone who once lived somewhere more interesting than the suburbs of Michigan is one way to do that. “You might choose to identify as a person who used to live somewhere else, because it makes you distinctive,” Clayton says. I know full well that living in Paris for three months doesn’t make me a Parisian, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an Eiffel Tower on my shower curtain anyway.
We may use our homes to help distinguish ourselves, but the dominant Western viewpoint is that regardless of location, the individual remains unchanged. It wasn’t until I stumbled across the following notion, mentioned in passing in a book about a Hindu pilgrimage by William S. Sax, that I began to question that idea: “People and the places where they reside are engaged in a continuing set of exchanges; they have determinate, mutual effects upon each other because they are part of a single, interactive system.”
I definitely feel like I have a connection and identify with every place that I’ve lived, although some have felt more like home and have shaped me more than others. A lot of that has been due to how safe or at peace I feel in a place, and how much I have bonded with the people around me.
I also think one thing that was so traumatic about the housing bubble was that sense of losing your home. Not just a piece of property you owned, but this landmark of who you were, the space where you kept all of your memories and built new ones, your safe house, literally.
What is your experience with home? What makes a place “home” for you?
How does empathy and social learning improve the learning experience at schools? A lot, apparently! And some research is finding that actively teaching empathy and social understanding can be taught in a public school setting, with great benefits for the entire learning process:
At a time of contentious debate over how to reform schools to make teachers more effective and students more successful, “social emotional learning” may be a key part of the solution. An outgrowth of the emotional intelligence framework, popularized by Daniel Goleman, SEL teaches children how to identify and manage emotions and interactions. One of the central considerations of an evolved EQ—as proponents call an “emotional quotient”—is promoting empathy, a critical and often neglected quality in our increasingly interconnected, multicultural world.
Brackett quickly learned that developing empathy in kids requires working on their teachers first. Ten years ago, he and his colleagues introduced a curriculum about emotions in schools, asking teachers to implement it in their own classrooms. When he observed the lessons, he was struck by the discomfort many of the instructors showed in talking about emotion. “There was one teacher who took the list of feelings we had provided and crossed out all of what she perceived of as ‘negative’ emotions before asking the students to identify what they were feeling,” Brackett says. “We realized that if the teachers didn’t get it, the kids never would.”
So in 2005, Brackett and his team at the Health, Emotion, and Behavior Lab at Yale developed a training program—now called RULER—that instructs teachers in the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for emotional health, then helps them shift the focus to children. The program focuses on five key skills: recognizing emotions in oneself and others, understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, labeling the full range of emotions, expressing emotions appropriately in different contexts, and regulating emotions effectively to foster relationships and achieve goals. Classrooms adopt “emotional literacy charters”—agreements that the whole community agrees to concerning interpersonal interactions—and kids use “mood meters” to identify the nature and intensity of their feelings and “blueprints” to chart out past experiences they might learn from.
I’m not a very “huggy” person, but this article makes me give that attitude a second thought. Touch, particularly the non-sexual kind, has many benefits for humans, such as creating friendly feelings, calming nerves, and help others be more sympathetic.
Touch is a sense that’s often forgotten. But touch is also vital in the way we understand and experience the world. Even the lightest touch on the upper arm can influence the way we think. To prove it, here are 10 psychological effects which show just how powerful nonsexual touch can be.