science | April 07, 2013

Nature Sharpens Our Minds: Adam Alter's Highly Shared Atlantic Article

Why did some patients recovering from gallbladder surgery in Pennsylvania recover quicker than others? As science speaker Adam Alter proposes, a picturesque view of natural surroundings may have attributed to their speedy recovery. In an excerpt of his book Drunk Tank Pink: The Unexpected Forces That Shape Our Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors, Alter explains that, despite receiving identical treatment, "by some measures, patients who gazed out at a natural scene were four times better off than those who faced a wall." The benefits of being engrossed in a natural environment extend beyond the hospital room.

In the excerpt—recently published in The Atlantic—Alter explores the impact that nature has on the well being, wealth, health, and wisdom of those with cancer, Attention Deficit Disorder, and those operating in high stress environments. Alter's findings have touched a nerve: the article has been shared over 10,000 times on Facebook, over 1,000 times on Twitter, and prompted a lively discussion on the comment forum. He claims that nature acts as a restorative element in our lives. "While man-made landscapes bombard us with stimulation, their natural counterparts give us the chance to think as much or as little as we'd like, and the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources," he says. Some findings even suggest that merely looking at a natural setting through a window can be more restorative to someone's mental acuity than playing outside in a man-made location.

"Attention is obviously a long way from recovery," he is quick to point out, "but patients with sharper minds often respond better to treatment, stick to their treatment regimens, and behave more proactively during recovery. Of course, nature is not a panacea, but it's an inexpensive and effective tool for dampening the impact of illness, and dulling the intrusion of everyday stress." In his book, his keynotes, and his lectures as the Assistant Professor of Marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business, Alter shows us the profound effects that unexpected cues can have on the way we think and feel. His insights are both intriguing and practical—shedding light on why we think the way we do and how to use that knowledge to be happier and more productive.

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economics | April 04, 2013