A Focus on Nature: The Attention Restoration Theory

Elly Deakin Biophilic design, Education, Healthy spaces, Uncategorized

When we spend a long period of time on a task without taking a break, we inevitably start to feel our attention span waning. Within modern working environments, we are faced with numerous tasks and activities throughout the day – and in order to get these done efficiently, they require consistent focus. However, excessive working and deadline pressures can increase our stress and anxiety levels, causing mental fatigue, irritableness and disrupted focus.

How can we help to restore our mental energy, so that we work more productively and efficiently?

The Attention Restoration Theory by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (2010) suggests that exposure to nature can help to renew our attention capacity. Mental tasks require our “directed attention”, where we use mental energy from only certain parts of our brain. However, the theory suggests that exposure to nature requires a different type of attention called “effortless attention” and alternating between the two can help to restore the parts of the brain that we use more regularly.

Today, a vast majority of working environments are located within urbanised areas – unfortunately, we have to deal with disruptive factors including noise pollution caused by the ever-increasing population and ubiquity of technology and transport. Research has shown that this type of chaotic environment can have a negative impact on our stress and energy levels, resulting in mental fatigue.

Imagine looking out of a window and watching a bird flutter across the sky or the leaves rustle in the wind – no doubt this will make you feel relaxed. This pleasant distraction gives us a sense of ‘being away’ from our usual hectic routine that involves our “directed attention”.

As architects and interior designers, it’s important to consider Biophilic design principles whilst designing spaces where the user needs to remain attentive for a long period of time, like offices and educational buildings. These can be direct references of nature such as a view out of a window or plants on a desk, as well as indirect references such as natural materials, patterns and textures.

By incorporating Biophilic design principles, we can create moments for “effortless attention” to take place, so we can work more productively and efficiently.

If you’re one to lose focus easily whilst at work, make sure to have a break to nature and notice the amazing difference.

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Image: Interface Flooring