Cognitive Benefits of Being in Nature

Photo from Sixty and Me (2020)

Finding time to get outdoors isn’t always easy. However, studies have shown it is well worth fitting into your schedule no matter how busy you may be. Interacting with nature has an abundance of cognitive benefits, not to mention its positive impacts on mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, “exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.”


From watching birds in your yard to taking a hike up a mountain, making time to experience nature will absolutely benefit you. In a research study with University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, findings demonstrate nature as being a restorative tool for improving cognitive functioning. Even brief interactions with nature result in noticeable increases in cognitive control. A more recent study from Berman and colleagues establishes that study participants who listened to nature sounds, such as birds chirping, performed better on cognitive tests than those who listened to urban sounds, such as traffic noises. Now, if you live in a city this doesn’t mean you’re headed toward cognitive failure. Simply make time for a stroll in your local park or take an excursion out of the city for a relaxing day on the beach! 


It is essential we also mention that experiencing nature can vastly improve your mental health as well, making you a healthier and happier individual. Gregory Bratman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, and colleagues demonstrated evidence that being in nature is linked to “increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.”


There are a number of possible explanations for why nature is so beneficial to us. Lisa Nisbet, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, suggests that “Stress reduction and attention restoration are related,” implying that a combination of factors are responsible for nature’s benefits. This would back the idea that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that both lowers stress levels and restores the ability to concentrate and pay attention. 


Nature’s availability to us must not be taken for granted. We have been able to determine that it is important, and in fact vital, to cognitive functioning and well-being! If you’re having trouble finding ways to interact with the outdoors, perhaps you could even take your next Vivo class outside!


– Mia Shaw, Vivo Content Editor




Weir, K., American Psychological Association, 2020 


Berman, M., et al., Psychological Science, 2008 


Bratman, G.N, et al., Science Advances, 2019 


Van Hedger, S.C., et al., 2019 


Capaldi, S.C., et al., International Journal of Wellbeing, 2015