The Solution to Technology Overload Is So Incredibly Simple

New research combines what we know about the mental health benefits of walking with avoiding family dysfunction and saving our minds from technological distraction.

University of Illinois researchers have found that getting outside with family members can help prevent family dysfunction. Previous research had been done on the benefits of walking unto itself, but combining the social element as well brings past studies into a new light.


To clarify, walking itself, even for just 20 minutes, can help you restore your attention. And attention helps you pick up social cues, not feel as irritable, and maintain more self-control than you otherwise would have. All of these factors can lead to functioning more in harmony with those around you.

Attention is a scarce resource in the age of the Internet and constant screen exposure. It’s hard for our brains to have the chance to sit back and have restorative time when there are so many tools, entertainment and advertising devices clamoring for our focus. Taking kids to the park helps parents feel like they can relax a little, they are “on-duty” in a different way. And the ritual itself of going outside with family can have benefits for family functioning.


Image: Andreas Rentz / Staff

The question of how to increase our attention spans is a big one, with implications far outside that of this study. It turns out that the human attention span these days has actually decreased to be shorter than that of a goldfish. Back in 2000 (before smartphones became a big thing), the average human attention span was 12 seconds. Now, it is only eight seconds, while the attention span of a goldfish is about nine seconds.

Activities such as “dual screening,” using a smartphone while watching TV is an example, are suspected of contributing to this mass attention deficit. But even for those who aren’t switching back and forth between devices, heavy usage of a smartphone can lead to episodes called “cognitive failures.” Cognitive failures can include forgetting appointments, frequent forgetfulness about what they were planning to do next, and having a hard time concentrating on a conversation.

Getting out for a walk might be even more beneficial for you if you walk in an area with some amount of trees. Even when viewing a street at just two percent tree density, participants in a study noted feeling more relaxed than they did when viewing a street without any trees. Seeing more trees led to further participants reporting stress reduction.


Header Image: Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

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