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This Is Your Mind On Nature

This Is Your Mind On Nature

When you head out to the desert, David Strayer is the type of man you want behind the wheel. He never texts or talks on the phone while driving. He doesn’t even approve of consuming within the car. A cognitive psychologist on the University of Utah who specializes in attention, Strayer is aware of our brains are susceptible to mistakes, particularly after we’re multitasking and dodging distractions. Amongst different things, his analysis has shown that using a cell phone impairs most drivers as much as drinking alcohol does.

Strayer is in a unique place to understand what trendy life does to us. An avid backpacker, he thinks he is aware of the antidote: Nature.

On the third day of a camping journey within the wild canyons near Bluff, Utah, Strayer is mixing up an unlimited iron kettle of chicken enchilada pie while explaining what he calls the "three-day impact" to 22 psychology students. Our brains, he says, aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re simply fatigued. When we slow down, cease the busywork, and soak up stunning natural environment, not solely will we feel restored, but our psychological efficiency improves too. Strayer has demonstrated as a lot with a group of Outward Bound individuals, who performed 50 % better on artistic drawback-fixing duties after three days of wilderness backpacking. The three-day effect, he says, is a kind of cleaning of the psychological windshield that happens once we’ve been immersed in nature lengthy enough. On this trip he’s hoping to catch it in action, by hooking his students—and me—to a portable EEG, a device that records brain waves.

"On the third day my senses recalibrate—I odor things and hear things I didn’t earlier than," Strayer says. The early evening sun has saturated the red canyon walls; the group is mellow and hungry in that satisfying, campout way. Strayer, in a rumpled T-shirt and with a slight sunburn, is certainly looking relaxed. "I’m more in tune with nature," he hiking goes on. "If you can have the expertise of being in the moment for 2 or three days, it seems to supply a distinction in qualitative thinking."

Strayer’s speculation is that being in nature permits the prefrontal cortex, the mind’s command center, to dial down and relaxation, like an overused muscle. If he’s proper, the EEG will show less energy coming from "midline frontal theta waves"—a measure of conceptual thinking and sustained attention. He’ll examine our mind waves with those of comparable volunteers who are sitting in a lab or hanging out at a parking zone in downtown Salt Lake City.

While the enchiladas are cooking, Strayer’s graduate students tuck my head into a kind of bathing cap with 12 electrodes embedded in it. They suction-cup another 6 electrodes to my face. Wires sprouting from them will ship my mind’s electrical signals to a recorder for later analysis. Feeling like a beached sea urchin, I stroll rigorously to a grassy bank along the San Juan River for ten minutes of restful contemplation. I’m alleged to think of nothing specifically, just watch the huge, glowing river circulate gently by. I haven’t looked at a pc or cell phone in days. It’s straightforward to neglect for just a few moments that I ever had them.

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