Green spaces ‘help fight brain fatigue’

The solution to “brain fatigue” could be – quite literally – a walk in the park, according to new research carried out in the Capital.

Scientists have discovered our dear green spaces chill us out more than we actually realise . . after using newly developed technology to map peoples’ brainwaves.

The study, which was only made possible by the invention of a new portable machine, was carried out by scientists at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. As part of the study 12 volunteers from the student body were sent for a walk encompassing different parts of the city. However, unbeknownst to the people around them, they had been fitted with portable EEGs wired to their scalps (pictured), hidden under hats, and connected to a laptop in their backpacks. An EEG is a machine that records electrical activity in the scalp.

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Richard Coyne, a professor of Architectural Computing at Edinburgh University, said: “The two universities wanted to work more closely together to address broader environmental issues.”

Each volunteer in the study was told to go at their own pace during the one-and-a half mile walk, while the laptop in their back-pack collected data on their emotional responses to three different areas of the city.

The walkers travelled first through an older, historic district with light traffic, then through a half mile of green space, then through a more urban district with heavy traffic.

When the results read from their brains were analysed, they showed attention and frustration levels rising in the two man-made settings, while brain activity during their time in the natural, green space was more meditative.

Professor Jenny Roe from Heriot Watt explained: “Natural environments still engage our brains but the attention they demand is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology.

“Going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”

The successful pilot study taps into the long-held belief that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

The fact that home-grown scientists have been able to prove what has always been suspected could have far reaching repercussions for planning law, in respect of allowing homes to be built on green-belt land.

Results of the pilot study are set to be published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine.