Dossier: Paisatges sonors - Observatori del Paisatge

a la premsa

22 de setembre de 2013

Parks make us smarter — science proves it!

Amazing new studies and brain results show nature reduces aggression, fights depression, improves mental function.

HENRY GRABAR (Estats Units) [Crōnica]


Last year, a group of Edinburgh architecture researchers asked a dozen students to take a walk. They began on a tree-lined shopping drag, turned along the tranquil northern edge of the Meadows, one of the city's larger parks, and wound up in a busy commercial district some half-hour later. The pastoral section of an otherwise urban jaunt, the researchers found, induced a significant increase in meditative thinking.

This may not strike you as a novel discovery. Thanks to Henry Thoreau's trip to Walden Pond, Teddy Roosevelt's sojourn in the Badlands, and America's other legends of retreat, the idea that nature has restorative powers is deeply embedded in our culture. Science is in support: A raft of studies credit bucolic settings with reducing aggression, alleviating depression, and improving mental function.

This is not quite the same old story, though. The results of the Edinburgh study were obtained through mobile electroencephalography (EEG) technology. Participants took their 25-minute walk with a web of electrodes glued to their scalps and a laptop computer in a backpack to record their neural impressions, step by step. When the paper says that the transition to North Meadow Lane was marked by 'reductions in arousal, frustration and engagement, and an increase in meditation,' it is not referring to participants' reactions on a lab-administered survey or test, but to fluctuations in brain activity recorded in situ.

It is, the researchers say, one of the first — if not the first — experiments to record live neural impressions of subjects moving through a city, and it has provocative implications for architecture and urban design. For centuries, philosophers and poets have struggled to define the character of place; to explain why some streets make people feel cozy and some lonely, some squares are friendly and some harsh; to understand what the French sociologist Guy Debord called 'the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres.' Mobile neuroscience is about to transcribe our sense of spatial perception, breaking the mystery of urban life into neatly measured surges of cerebral activity.

Electroencephalography tracks voltage flows within the brain. It has been widely used in cognitive science experiments and to diagnose epilepsy and other neural disorders. Though EEG lacks the spatial precision of magnetic resonance imagining (MRI), it has a few advantages over more sophisticated methods of brain analysis. It's relatively cheap, requires little heavy equipment, and is very forgiving of subject movement. All these make EEG a good technology for measuring brains on the go.


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