In the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, 150 students were asked to press a key as a series of numbers repeatedly flashed in front of them on a computer screen, unless the number was three.
Midway through the task half the group was given a 40-second break in which they looked at a flowering meadow green roof and the others looked at a bare concrete roof.
The participants who looked at the green roof made fewer errors and had better concentration in the second half of the task.
Head researcher Dr Kate Lee said looking at a green roof provided a boost for tired workers.
“We know that green roofs are great for the environment, but now we can say that they boost attention too. Imagine the impact that has for thousands of employees working in nearby offices,” she said.
“This study showed us that looking at an image of nature for less than a minute was all it took to help people perform better on our task.”
The study used a 40-second “micro-break” to mirror the mini breaks which happen spontaneously throughout the day.
Looking at nature helped develop “multiple networks of attention”, giving participants greater concentration.
“It’s something that a lot of us do naturally when we’re stressed or mentally fatigued. There’s a reason you look out the window and seek nature, it can help you concentrate on your work and to maintain performance across the workday,” Dr Lee said.
“This study has implications for workplace well-being and adds extra impetus to continue greening our cities. City planners around the world are switching on to these benefits of green roofs and we hope the future of our cities will be a very green one.”