A new study of the effect of microbreaks on productivity finds that glancing at a grassy rooftop for
only 40 seconds markedly boosts concentration on attention-sapping mental tasks.
The researchers say their study should spur more
greening in our cities.
Writing in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers from the University of Melbourne in
Australia describe an experiment where they tested the idea of attention restoration – where microbreaks
lasting under a minute can boost concentration.
They showed that glancing at a green and grassy city roof scene restores attention more effectively than if
the view is of a concrete roof.
For the study, the team assessed the performance of 150 students carrying out a boring mental task in a city
The students had to watch a computer screen as a series of numbers flashed up and for each number press the
corresponding key on the keyboard – unless it was the number three.
The students were given a 40-second “microbreak” in the middle of the task where they could look at a
rooftop scene. For half of the students, the view was of a green flowering meadow rooftop. For the other half, the view
was of a bare concrete roof.
View of a grassy rooftop led to fewer mistakes and better concentration
The results showed that after their microbreak, compared with their peers who viewed the concrete
rooftop, the students who glanced at the grassy rooftop made significantly fewer mistakes and showed better
concentration in the second half of the boring task.
Lead author Dr. Kate Lee, of the faculty of science at Melbourne, says the study shows just looking at an
image of nature for under a minute can help us perform tasks more effectively. She adds:
“We know that green roofs are great for the environment, but now we can say that they boost attention too.
Imagine the impact that has for thousands of employees working in nearby offices.”
Dr. Lee emphasizes the importance of microbreaks – short and informal breaks that happen spontaneously
throughout the day: “It’s something that a lot of us do naturally when we’re stressed or mentally fatigued.”
“There’s a reason you look out the window and seek nature; it can help you concentrate on your work and to
maintain performance across the workday,” she adds.
Dr. Lee says the findings deliver an important message about workplace well-being and should spur more
greening in our cities. She concludes:
“City planners around the world are switching on to these benefits of green roofs and we hope the
future of our cities will be a very green one.”
The team now plans to investigate whether greener workplaces make a difference to how helpful and creative
people are at work.
The study adds to mounting evidence that green spaces are good for mental well-being. In January 2014,
Medical News Today learned how researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK
called for more green spaces in towns and cities as they can bring lasting benefit to public health.
They carried out a study that tracked people’s health for 5 years after they
moved to greener areas and found not only did it improved their mental health, but also that the benefit
lasted long afterwards.