Humans feel better walking through the woods than in a city, according to a new paper.
The authors looked at the question, "What happens in your brain when you walk down the street?", and concluded that urban environments are not pleasing to the human brain.
Modern architecture and spaces are lacking in fractals. There are patterns that can be found all over nature, like trees, rivers, clouds, and coastlines.
The human brain has evolved to respond favorably to natural fractals in a blink of an eye. The human brain only takes 50 milliseconds to detect something.
Physicist Richard Taylor of the University of Oregon says that as soon as we look at nature, a cascade of automatic responses ensues.
The response is positive. Humans experience less stress and better well-being when they look at nature. Taylor's research has shown that a reduction in stress and mental fatigue for the observer can be as much as 60%.
Taylor points out that research shows that patients can heal faster if they have access to a window and look outside.
Taylor says people really need aesthetic environments to keep themselves healthy.
Modern architecture has not been designed to incorporate nature. Box-shaped buildings, simple corridors, and windowless cubicles are what urban environments are made of.
The paper stresses that design should be influenced by research and more buildings and spaces should be human-centered, as it would lead to reduced stress and greater well-being. Taylor says that stress is an investment that would be worthwhile in many ways.
He says humans do not like looking at boxes.
It is not as easy as painting a tree on the side of a building. People respond differently to patterns embedded within the relatively simple surroundings of a building than they do to natural scenes.
Taylor is collaborating with a psychologist and an architect on design projects that incorporate the kind of fractals that are pleasing to the human brain when viewed in the spaces people work and live in. Taylor's team designed spaces where people experience heightened anxiety, such as schools, airports, and workplaces.
Taylor says that the same design concept could be used in ceilings, window blinds, and other parts of modern architecture. There is a project that develops patterns for rooftop solar panels.
College campuses are a good place to make architecture and design more human-centered. If students were able to look at fractals instead of simple boxes and walls on an exam morning, that would be amazing. It would make them less stressed and make their minds better for the test.
Taylor says that the stress-reducing quality of nature is an essential need as a human.
The paper is in Urban Science.
The University of Oregon.