The Great Outdoors: The Next Great Miracle Drug?

On August 15, 2010, the New York Times ran a piece entitled “Your Brain on Computers – Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain“. In it, author Matt Richtel tells of 5 scientists venturing into the great outdoors to take a first hand crack at understanding how “heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might verse those effects”.

The five scientists, all specializing in some form of science of the brain, are divided into two groups. Two groups which you could probably classify your peers within. That is, skeptics and believers.

The skeptic group thinks that the merits of a vacation are obvious. Vacation is a time of restoration. A time where digital interruptions are the last thing we’re waiting for, expecting, or wanting. Up until here, the believers would agree with the skeptics. Where the skeptic differs is in the idea that an outdoor retreat not only has the power to restore, but to physically change our brains.

David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, argued that the brain is refreshed by nature.

Our senses change. They kind of recalibrate – you notice sounds, like these crickets chirping; you hear the river. the sounds, the smells, you become more connected to the physical environment, the earth, rather than the artificial environment.”

David Strayer

David Stayer is a professor of Psychology from the University of Utah

Well, we here at Love the Outdoors salute you David Strayer, for eloquently describing what we’ve been saying for years.

By the end of the trip, no one could deny that they’d felt renewed physically and mentally. You (the reader) have likely experienced this same post nature outing calm. The drive home is quieter, though maybe its because the kids are zonked out in the back seat, but things just feel different.

Some of the good scientists involved in this little experiment went home to study this feeling a bit more. Hopefully we’ll hear more about just what is going on in our complicated brains during this time. I have no doubt that they’ll find something significant occurs from some exposure to nature. Us? We don’t really need the scientists to confirm something we already know. Just call us believers.