If you’re feeling sluggish, head for the great outdoors. And no, we don’t mean that you have to pack up the car and drive to the nearest national park for a vacation. Just go outside and find some trees and grass because communing with nature recharges working memory.
Working Memory is our brain’s ability to work with information. It is a skill that can improve your learning and decision making, and that can help you manage your time more effectively and multitask more efficiently.
Marc Berman and colleagues put nature to the test and they found positive benefits. They asked thirty-eight adults to come into a lab and put them through over half an hour of cognitive testing, including a working memory test: remembering numbers in backward order. They also checked their mood by asking them to rate how well different adjectives, like cheerful, enthusiastic, and bashful, applied to them. After all this testing, the researchers asked two groups of participants to take an hour-long walk. One group walked in a park, while the other walked downtown. The walk through the park was lined with trees and secluded from traffic and people. In contrast, the downtown walk was largely on traffic-heavy streets that were lined with buildings. After returning from their respective walks, the participants retook the working memory test and again answered the same mood questionnaire. All of the participants returned the following week and carried out the same testing-walk-testing procedure. The only difference was that this time, they walked in the other location—the park walkers hoofed it downtown, and the downtown walkers strolled through the park.
The researchers found that when people walked through the park, their working memory scores were almost 20% higher, regardless of their mood or the weather. They suggest that nature has a restorative effect on working memory and even a short exposure in a single instance can make a difference.
Bottom Line: When you need an instant working memory boost, go outside to a nearby park for a quick walk. This is a great practice to keep in mind if you’re about to take a big test, make an important presentation, or solve a tricky problem at work.
Find out more about about Working Memory in The Working Memory Advantage (Simon & Schuster, 2013)