Soft fascination is the term coined by Rachel and Steven Kaplan to describe the delightful effect that a walk in nature has on our brains.

The American research couple has developed the Attention Restoration Theory which reveals how to restore spent attention. According to these scientists, we usually commit our attention to a specific task in everyday life, such as writing a text. Concentration wanes gradually, with the process accelerating depending on the number of calls, messages or e-mails that interrupt us during this time. At some point, our attention reserves are simply exhausted, like a battery after heavy use. Everything grinds to a halt.

The Kaplans have discovered that the parts of the brain responsible for concentration and attention can regenerate most effectively during a walk in natural surroundings. A typical experiment: test subjects are asked to take walks. One group walks along a street, the other through nature. Blood pressure and cortisol levels are measured, and the ability to concentrate and creativity of the subjects analyzed. Before and after. The result: Nothing reduces stress levels as reliably as spending time in the great outdoors. Why?

Nature catches our attention to a certain extent – without demanding we commit our attention to anything in particular. Rachel and Steven Kaplan came up with the term soft fascination to describe this. Anyone who has allowed their eyes to wander in a forest, in the mountains or by the sea will know exactly what they mean: Taking in the natural world remedies any exhausted attention in our minds. In this respect, nature is a little like music – it can be there in the background, but still raise the mood and dispel troublesome thoughts.

Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, The experience of nature: A psychological perspective, 1989.

Photo credits: Daiana Riva

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