I read the book, Your Brain On Nature, which totally rocked my world. In this book, the authors mention numerous studies on the effects of nature on the brain and also the effects of urban scenes on the brain. This was both tested with photographic representations of both scenarios and actual immersion in a natural or uber urban setting devoid of plant life. Clearly, nature is better for the brain by:
- decreasing stress
- elevating mood and positive outlook
- increasing empathy
- boosting the immune system
- sharpening cognitive function
Urban scenes, on the other hand, increase stress, anxiety, aggression and decrease cognitive capabilities and immune response– yikes!
That said, I made a *unique* connection in light of this scientific research. It’s purely anecdotal, so humor me. In the past decade or so, I have shunned synthetic furniture (plastic, pressed particle board, etc.) in favor of solid wood and other natural materials that look and feel earthy. I know it’s personal taste, but I think I am onto something. Not only is my favoritism for natural products probably better for the planet in some ways (less petroleum used, less synthetic chemicals released into the environment and less toxic crap for us to breath in), but heck, it may be better for my brain!
Perhaps, my brain doesn’t like looking at plastic and other fake stuff. To be honest, it may not even be in it’s evolutionary biology. As “Your Brain On Nature” expounds, we are hard-wired to notice, more quickly, the threat of a tiger than the threat of a machine gun. This difference may only be a few milliseconds, but it says a lot: all this synthetic stuff is very new to our brain’s evolution, while awareness of large, predatory animals has been embedded into our brains since the beginning of our hominid existence.
From my perspective, clay pots, baskets, wooden furniture and other simple, timeless home and hearth items have been with us for much longer and much more resemble the raw materials from which they were made. This may also make them more recognizable to our brains. Not to mention, they probably still emit aromatherapeutic chemicals and other beneficial properties. Have you ever smelled a cedar chest or enjoyed the sweet smell of a straw basket? If you have ever sculpted clay, perhaps, some of the mineral-rich content of the clay seeps into your skin, nourishing you (they do say what you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream.)
Taking it further, I wonder if synthetic items create a stress response, decrease the immune system and all those other things that urban scenes did in the previously mentioned scientific study. Not to get OCD (that is probably even worse for your immune system than having synthetic items in your house), but let’s consider that surrounding ourselves with beautiful, natural household items (when possible), like an unfinished solid wood shelf, may at least be neutral on your brain. Add plants and some sort of nature view out your window, whether it be a single tree or a lush garden or a lake, and, voila! Your brain is going to feeling pretty good. Plus, you will not have purchased something that toxically off-gasses in your home.