The first study of its kind has proven that 60 minutes spent in the outdoors diminishes hyperactivity in the amygdala. This project was conducted by the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Studies, a research group that explores the effect of physical environment on individuals.
While studies have previously shown the benefits of nature on stress levels, there was never causal evidence for it. “So far the hen-and-egg problem could not be disentangled, namely whether nature actually caused the effects in the brain or whether the particular individuals chose to live in rural or urban regions,” commented Sonja Sudimac, a predoctoral fellow in the Lise Meitner Group.
In the study, 63 healthy volunteers spent an hour either walking in Grunewald forest or in a traffic-heavy area of Berlin – after which their brain activity was examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The results showed decreased activity in the amygdala after the walk in the forest and static stress levels present in the urban setting. The amygdala, commonly referred to as the “fear center” of the brain is responsible for processing emotions and is the mental pocket that processes stress.
Our team at NJIN found this study to be especially poignant in light of a study published in 2016 that shows decreased memory retrieval and flexible learning abilities in students experiencing stress. While stress can focus concentration, it is detrimental to learning habits, causing students to adopt a habitual, rigid learning style rather than a cognitive one. This has a direct impact on students’ ability to retrieve information and build on knowledge.
Our team here at NJIN loves to do our research. Each new study we discover bolsters our purpose: to create open, natural, experiential learning spaces for students to ease their stress and develop the cognitive room and personal connection to learn deeply.