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Design Disrupted

Technology Undermines the Restorative Benefits of Nature

We know that spending time in nature brings restorative benefits. A 10-minute break spent sitting on a park bench or walking along a tree-lined street can help restore our ability to focus on mentally demanding tasks. But does spending time in nature provide the same benefits if we are using our laptops or checking our smartphones?

Professor Bill Sullivan argues that the attention-boosting benefits of nature are “undermined by the use of an electronic device.”  Bill and his co-authors, University of Illinois alumni Bin Jiang (PhD 2013) and Rose Schmillen (MLA 2016), conducted an experimental study to test people’s ability to pay attention after breaks spent in green settings with or without the use of laptops. They found that “the only condition that produced an increase of attentional function was a green setting in which participants didn’t have a laptop.”

In other words, using a portable electronic device while sitting on that park bench is a good way to “waste a break.”

The study, “How to Waste a Break,” was recently featured in an article by Jared Green in The Dirt, ASLA’s landscape architecture blog. In an interview with Green, Bill explains,

“The findings here present a challenge for landscape architects. In the past, it was enough to design and build nature-rich cities. But with the ubiquitous use of mobile devices, one of the most important benefits of being in nature-rich urban space might be lost. The challenge is to create even more engaging landscapes–landscapes that encourage people to put their phones down and be in the moment.”

Read New Study: Technology Undermines the Restorative Benefits of Nature.

Read the original manuscript, published in Environment and Behavior.