Gazing out of the widow onto green pastures or a peaceful copse of trees while sitting an exam will actually help students score higher. And not just a little bit either—a new study has found that students' capacity to pay attention increased 13% with a green view outside their classroom window.
The study, by Dongying Li and William Sullivan of the University of Illinois, tested the performance of 94 students in three situations—next to a window with a pleasant green view; in a classroom looking out onto a space like a parking lot, or another building; or in a windowless classroom. Subjects performed several tests consisting of proofreading, speech, and mental math. They were then given an attention test, a break, and another attention test.
During the study, participants were also monitored for physiological stress, including skin sensors and temperature measurements. The students allowed a pleasant view performed significantly better. For students who had green views, there was a measurable difference after they took their heads out of the book and released their attention, Sullivan said, but not for the students in other classrooms.
But why? The authors hypothesize that green views help students to recover from stressful experiences, which in this case is the test itself. Gazing out of the window from time to time and seeing the glory of nature helps restore us after a little mental anxiety. The study also found that our attention levels are restored in the same way.
Ninety-four students is still a small study group, and narrowing down the exact cause would take more work. In a previous study, Li notes that simple exposure to daylight can help performance, but that study didn’t record what was outside the window. Even so, a 13% boost in attention might be enough to convince architects that classrooms and offices should come with better views, and perhaps teachers won’t scold pupils for gazing out the window.
One can even imagine the fantastic irony of a large company arraying its cubicled minions next to the widows to increase productivity, while banishing the smaller number of executives to the crappy offices that overlook airshafts and loading bays.