Designing Your View

Use cognitive science to manage what you see through your window.

Posted Apr 01, 2016

It’s Spring if you live in the Northern Hemisphere (finally) or Fall if your home is in the Southern one—both seasons are great times to think about the gardens and other landscaping you can see through your home’s windows.  Cognitive scientists have learned a lot about the sorts of views that make us happy and healthy.

Some of you have more control of what’s outside your windows than others—if the extent of your ability to change what you see is opening or closing your blinds, and you don’t have a view of green, leafy nature, add a couple of leafy green plants to your windowsill – seeing them will boost your mood and your mental performance.  Looking at leafy green plants has been linked to more creative thinking, for example. 

Research conducted around the world shows that wherever we live or are from, humans like to look at (and benefit from seeing) the same sorts of nature vistas—certain sorts of viewed scenes relax us.  The stuff we benefit from looking at today filled the spaces that would have increased our chances of survival when we were a young species.

To start, they feature trees that we could have scampered up to see what was going on in our world and open grassy areas that would have made it easier for us to spot danger approaching. 

The most preferred and relaxing views of nature feature some sort of clean, fresh-appearing water element.  The advantages of ready access to water before the days of bottled Perrier and Fanta are clear.  The cognitive benefits of seeing water are strong—if your home looks out onto a courtyard or other space without much potential to support green leafy plants, try to install a fountain outside where you can see from inside your home.  Even a small one, a couple of feet high, will do the trick, particularly if you can hear the water burbling in it from your home.

Views with a few manmade elements can be relaxing.  In larger yards, a meandering road or path and a field with mown grasses and a few scattered trees are desirable—think of scaling this sort of grand scene to the size of your lot as a mind-expanding and soul-enriching challenge.

Desirable views have a hint of mystery.  We like to understand and enjoy what is happening around us, and to imagine that if we traveled from where we are into the unknown we would meet with pleasant surprises—that’s where the meandering path comes into play.

An untamed jungle-y sort of landscape might seem to be just the sort of scenery that would help us to forget the demands imposed by civilization, but seeing it makes us tense.  It was hard for our ancient ancestors to live successfully in a jungle—it is pretty hard to see danger approaching amid the chaos. 

We like nature scenes to have an assortment of green plants and flowers.  Since many flowers are themselves edible, or represent the promise of fruits to come, this is easy to understand—as is our related interest in seeing signs of bird life.

If all else fails, pull back your currents and let whatever natural light comes your way into your home.  Daylight is a sort of nearly magical tonic for humans.  Being in daylight is great for our mood, the performance of our brains, and our physical health.

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