How are natural environments different?
A growing number of environmental psychologists suggest that natural environments create a regenerative power for us. Unlike our built environments, natural
environments engage us without overbearing us.
Rather than grabbing and monopolizing our attention, they grant our minds the freedom to wander from one sensory experience to another as we please.
Imagine the placid ripple of an emerald pond; waist-high lemon grass swaying in the savannah breeze; the soft trickle of a spring, meandering through a forest. Each scene affords us ample opportunity for visual pleasure, inviting our contemplation without demanding it.
Our eyes are free to pass over each natural element at will. The mental relief afforded to us by natural environments is not only calming and pleasurable, but it helps to restore our depleted attentional resources as well, leaving us better-equipped to return to the demands of regular life.
This is the crux of the Attention Restoration Theory – the recognition of natural environments as uniquely capable of allowing us to recharge our attentional reserves, and avoid the mental fatigue so ubiquitous in our increasingly artificial surroundings.
Is all nature experienced the same?
Some scientists have begun to shift their focus from nature as a whole to various features within nature; in other words, rather than lumping all aspects of the natural environment together, they’ve aimed to see if different natural features differ with regard to how we perceive and respond to them.
Blue Space vs. Green Space
What their research has begun to show is that blue space – a term that distinguishes water bodies from green space, such as forests, savannahs, and rolling hills – offers even greater restorative potential than other features of the natural environment.
Streams, rivers, oceans and lakes have been shown to afford greater mental relief than green space does. In so doing, these blue spaces help facilitate the restoration of vital attentional resources that are depleted in everyday life. Studies have shown that
individuals consistently perform better on attention-demanding tasks after spending time in natural environments with blue spaces; in fact, to a certain extent, performance on attention-demanding tasks has even been shown to correlate to the amount of blue space present. In other words, the greater the visual presence of water within an individual’s environment, the better the individual is likely to perform on attention-demanding tasks.
The notion that natural environments with sizeable blue space provide us with mental relief and restore our attention may help explain why water view and waterfront properties are so desirable.
In the increasingly in-your-face, interconnected digital era in which we currently find ourselves, a waterfront property respite from the bustle of our artificial environments seems more and more appealing.