Helping the Brain Be Tranquil

BY HIV Plus Editors

September 01 2010 12:00 AM ET

New research findings demonstrate that tranquil environmental scenes containing natural features ' such as the sea ' cause distinct brain areas to become 'connected' with one another while man-made environments, such as highways, disrupt the brain connections.

The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Bradford in Sheffield, England, and the Institute of Medicine and Neuroscience at J'lich, Germany, focused on the fact that waves breaking on a beach and traffic moving on a highway produce a similar sound, perceived as a constant roar, and presented the participants with images of tranquil and nontranquil scenes while they listened to the same sound associated with both scenes.

Using brain scanning that measures brain activity, they showed that the natural, tranquil scenes caused different brain areas to become 'connected' with one another ' indicating that these brain regions were working in sync. However, the nontranquil highway scenes disrupted connections within the brain.

'People experience tranquillity as a state of calmness and reflection, which is restorative compared with the stressful effects of sustained attention in day-to-day life,' says Michael Hunter of the Sheffield Cognition and Neuroimaging Laboratory. 'It is well-known that natural environments induce feelings of tranquility, whereas manmade, urban environments are experienced as nontranquil. We wanted to understand how the brain works when it perceives natural environments, so we can measure its experience of tranquillity."

Peter Woodruff, from SCANLab, says, "This work may have implications for the design of more tranquil public spaces and buildings, including hospitals, because it provides a way of measuring the impact of environmental and architectural features on people's psychological state. The project was a real collaborative effort, bringing together researchers from psychiatry, radiology, and architecture at the University of Sheffield as well as engineering at the University of Bradford and the Institute of Medicine and neuroscience at J'lich, Germany."

The full article, 'The State of Tranquility: Subjective Perception Is Shaped by Contextual Modulation of Auditory Connectivity,' appeared in the journal NeuroImage.

Tags: Features

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