Hearing nature sounds does indeed relax people who are stressed. Van Praag and her team report that their “findings may help explain reported health benefits of exposure to natural environments, through identification of alterations to autonomic activity and functional coupling within the DMN [default mode network of the brain] when listening to naturalistic sounds.” Natural sounds that are relaxing include, for example, gently moving water (think: burbling brooks) and leaves rustling in a gentle breeze.
Research Design Connections
Trying to solve a difficult problem? Imagine a dialogue between people with various viewpoints on the issue to be resolved—that fantasy conversation will dramatically increase your understanding of relevant topics (Zavala and Kuhn, in press).
Schutte and her team have learned that time spent in virtual reality nature, compared to time spent in virtual reality urban spaces, can lead to better moods. Also, people who experience virtual reality nature believe that they are more refreshed mentally (in other words, that they are more cognitively restored) after spending time there than the people placed in the virtual urban places. The researchers immersed users in 360-degree natural or urban interactive virtual environments and learned that “Virtual reality experience of a natural environment compared to virtual reality experience
Halali and colleagues learned that just thinking about temperature has a serious effect on how our brains work. After the researchers got people thinking about temperature, by, for example, showing them various landscapes “associated with cool vs. warm temperatures [and asking them to imagine themselves in the location shown] . . . . cool compared to warm temperatures lead to improved performance on . . .
Bellezza, Paharia, and Keinan found that people link appearing busy with perceived higher status, at least in American workplaces. Their findings indicate that it may be desirable to eliminate visual shielding around some busy people, in the US, for example, those doing work that doesn’t require them to focus. The Bellezza team determined that “Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status. . . . the authors conducted a series of studies, drawing participants mostly from Italy and the US.
Altmann and David Hambrick confirm that mental interruptions can impede performance. They report that “As steps of a procedure are performed more quickly, memory for past performance . . . become less accurate, increasing the rate of skipped or repeated steps after an interruption. We found this effect, with practice generally improving speed and accuracy, but impairing accuracy after interruptions. . . .
Sanders has reviewed the research on the effects of smart phone based navigation tools on our ability to find our way through spaces without them, among other topics. As she reports, “Instead of checking a map and planning a route before a trip, people can now rely on their smartphones to do the work for them. . . .
Research by Westphal-Fitch and Fitch confirms that visual symmetry is valued by humans. They learned that “symmetrical patterns are not only used most frequently in real life . . . [they] are rated as significantly more attractive than are random patterns.”
Gesche Westphal-Fitch and Tecumseh Fitch. “Beauty for the Eye of the Beholder: Plane Pattern Perception and Production.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press.
It often seems like a good idea to leave empty space around important texts. New research indicates that white space may not always be a plus. Kwan, Dai, and Wyer found that via seven field and laboratory studies that “The empty space that surrounds a text message can affect the message’s persuasiveness. . . . people find a message less persuasive, and are less likely to act on its implications, when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not. . . .