This was not supposed to be the study that validated your cubicle YouTube habit. Australian researchers, whose paper was just published on the open-access journal PLOS ONE, set out to test the efficacy of "brain training" software that purported to enhance memory, attention, language, executive function and visuospatial abilities. They had the employees of a national service organization play the brain games for 20 minute sessions, three times per week, for four months.
The brain training software was a goose egg in terms of cognitive benefits, mood, stress, or anything else. But luckily for you and cute cats everywhere, the researchers included an "Active Control" condition where subjects, instead of playing games, watched National Geographic nature documentaries similar to the ones you see here.
The viewers of the wonders of nature, like cuddly polar bear families and scary shark attacks, "quite unexpectedly" had a significant increase in their self-reported quality of life and well-being, as well as a measurable decrease in stress levels. These effects persisted six months after the study ended.
While this is just one study of 200 people, the authors noted that other recent research has supported the idea of taking short breaks during the workday as a way to reduce fatigue and even increase productivity. (See also this post on technology increasing employee engagement.)
Watching videos that feature content that has nothing to do with your work, just for fun, the authors say, is a great way to have a "respite" from your workday.
Talk about science news you can use.
[Image: Flickr user Jeff Kubina]