Far out Friday: Could this 40 second activity boost employees’ attention spans?

by Chloe Taylor26 Jun 2015
Research has found that being able to see ‘nature’ can help to improve attention spans, prompting leading academics to call for employers to allow “green micro breaks” during the working day.

Scholars from the University of Melbourne conducted the experiment with the intention of uncovering whether a short, 40 second break in which participants viewed a green city roof could boost their attention span.

The experiment involved a neuropsychology test called the “Sustained Attention to Response Task” (SART), in which participants worked at a computer and had to respond to numbers flashing on the screen.

The SART is designed to be simple, but repetitive. After engaging participants in the task for a prolonged amount of time, researchers gave them a 40 second “micro break”, during which each participant saw an image of a city on their computer.

Scenes varied, with half of the participants being shown a concrete roof, and the remaining people being shown a garden roof.

After the micro break, participants returned to the SART. When the task was completed, the performance of the two groups was compared.

Those who had seen the green roof outperformed their counterparts, making fewer errors and responding more efficiently to the numbers.

According to the researchers, changes in attention can be analysed by breaking down each person’s response patterns into two parts: ‘quick changes’ in responding and ‘gradual changes’ in responding.

“Steadier quick changes in responding suggest fewer brief attention ‘slips’ during the task and better attention control,” they explained. “Steadier gradual changes in responding suggest consistent levels of alertness across the task.”

In the study, participants who were shown the green space displayed fewer attention slips, which led to better attention control. They also showed more consistent alertness.

Prior to the University of Melbourne study, researchers had only believed that these benefits were achievable from partaking in longer exposure to green space.

“We uncovered attention benefits after a 40 second micro-break with a flowering meadow green roof view,” the study’s authors said. “For office workers, this suggests that “green micro-breaks” can provide a simple and effective strategy for boosting attention between longer breaks.”

“Importantly, our study shows attention benefits after seeing a city green roof,” they added. “Most research on the benefits of nature has used lush and tall nature, particularly forests, woodlands, and parks. The green roof we showed participants was realistic, using low growing plants that could survive on an irrigated roof.

They said that their research demonstrates that even a modest area of accessible green space can be beneficial in the workplace.

“Our results are yet another incentive to add more plants into our cities and workplaces, to provide real benefits for people by creating healthy, productive and liveable spaces,” the researchers said. “Green roofs are a practical solution for high density cities.”

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