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What’s Outside Your Window?

By Leah, Lynna, Aiya, & Hannah

It’s room draw time.

What dorm do I want to be in? Do I want a double? Or a suite? Do I want to be close to the library? The dining hall? Where are my friends living?

b8335f7a0be0c4169a4942f618734848Although all of these questions are valid, an important element of room selection often fails to be considered. You may or may not think about it that much, but the view from your window has important effects on you, particularly if you’re a mentally drained and stressed-out college student. You have to look through it every day, and know which direction it faces relative to the sun. You want to have the best view without worrying about strangers peering in. But besides these concerns, the specifics of your window should be at the top of your dorm priority list. Research shows that a view of nature from your window has immense benefits, including improved mood, replenished attention and cognitive functioning, and reduced stress.

One of the dominant theories explaining nature’s positive cognitive benefits is Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan, 1995). Sustained effortful attention reduces your ability to pay attention. Imagine, for example, the cognitive resources it takes to proofread a long essay, and how exhausted you feel afterwards. You might make more mistakes as time goes on and be in a more negative mood. ART suggests that these cognitive resources can be replenished by engaging with nature (Kaplan, 1995). Proofreading an essay requires effortful sustained focus. Nature is less demanding because it easily draws attention and allows resources for effortful attention to replenish.

The best way to gain these cognitive benefits is to spend time in nature. On top of replenishing depleted cognitive resources, nature has the added benefit of reducing stress. According to Ulrich’s Stress Reduction Theory (SRT; Ulrich, 1991), our environment, particularly urban settings, can be stressful and even threatening, which induces physiological stress responses and ultimately inhibits cognitive processes.  Nature settings, however, tend to be more pleasant and less threatening, thus lowering stress levels. Individuals who encounter a stressor will recover faster if exposed to nature as opposed to urban settings (Ulrich, 1991).

One might not need to be immersed in nature to experience its benefits. Viewing nature through a window can lead to similar benefits especially when physically spending time in nature is less convenient. Next time when you are choosing a room whether that be in an office setting, a dorm setting, or a hospital setting, choose the room with a nature view.

The view from the window has shown to have health effects; after surgery, hospital patients had a much smoother and shorter recovery period if they were assigned to a room with a view of greenery versus a brick wall. One study looked at 46 patients who had gone through gallbladder surgery where half of the patients were assigned to a room with a view of trees and  the other half had a window facing a brick wall (Ulrich, 1984). From surgery to discharge, nurses reported that patients in rooms with nature views had better moods, required fewer painkillers, and had fewer complications. In general, nurses felt that patients in these rooms had better recovery experiences. Additionally, these patients recovered faster and were discharged earlier.  Merely having a window with nature views had tremendous health benefits. Click here to read the original paper and here to learn about another way to improve recovery after surgery. 

A two-part study examined workplaces that relied heavily on desk workers (Kaplan, 1993). Employees filled out an anonymous survey called the “Job Pressures Research Project,” which asked for their job descriptions, job stressors, coping mechanisms for job stressors, generally stress levels experienced in life, and various similar information. Roughly two-thirds of the employees worked desk jobs, of whom some had office views of nature and others did not.  The employees with access to a nature view had fewer job stressors and reported a higher overall job satisfaction.  

The second study further examined the impact that windows have on job satisfaction.  A sample of 1000 employees were mailed a survey measuring “daily hassles and their costs, as well as exploring ways that help people recover from their effects. In particular, the study involves seeing whether plants and nature can be helpful in this process.”  A portion of the survey measured window accessibility and window views (e.g., street, trees, parking lot, grass, flowers, other buildings).  Overall, employees who had easier access to windows reported higher job satisfaction.  Individuals who viewed nature in particular had even higher job satisfaction (with more nature associated with higher satisfaction) because their workspace felt more personal and private; they were also more enthusiastic about their jobs, excited by job challenges, less frustrated and more patient with others, and generally healthier and more satisfied with life.  Some of these participants even commented on their surveys exclaiming their enthusiasm about windows in their office space, while other participants without windows complained that windows would improve their overall work situation. If you want to read the original paper, click here

Lastly, the benefits of nature extends to self-discipline improvement, specifically for girls (Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2002; click here to read). Girls, ages 7-12, living in apartment complexes with more visible natural elements through their windows scored better on measures of concentration, inhibition of initial impulse, and delayed gratification. This extra self-discipline may be the extra push you need to log off Facebook and get started on that assignment.

So the next time you choose a room to spend quality time in, remember to find a room with a natural view. It might be the secret to a healthy and productive year!

 

References:

Kaplan, R.  (1993).  The role of nature in the context of the workplace.  Landscape and Urban Planning, 26, 193-201.  doi: 10.1016/0169-2046(93)90016-7

Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182. doi:10.1016/2072-4944(95)90001-2

Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E., Sullivan, W. C.  (2002).  Views of nature and self-discipline: Evidence from inner-city children.  Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 49-63.  doi:10.1006/jevp.2001.0241

Ulrich, R. S.  (1984).  View through a window may influence recovery from surgery.  Science, 224, 420.  doi: 10.1126/science.6143402

Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-230. doi: 10.1016/S0272-4944(05)80184-7

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