Got Blue Mind?

Photo: Brandon Fuller

Here, student Lauren Poirier explains blue mind. In our cover story, writer Marybeth Reilly-McGreen dives in, introducing you to some of URI’s bluest minds.

Author Wallace J. Nichols defines blue mind as “a mildly meditative state characterized by peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.” He distinguishes it from red mind, which neuroscientist Catherine Franssen describes as an “edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear, and maybe even a little bit of danger and despair.”

Water is a shortcut to happiness, Nichols argues, and blue mind is what we experience when we spend time by the sea, a pond, a river, or just luxuriating in a long bath.

Psychologists, biologists, neurologists, researchers, surfers, fishers, swimmers, and beachgoers alike agree that there is just something restorative and peaceful about spending time in or near water. In Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, Nichols delves into the science behind this phenomenon. He argues that our brains are wired to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information—an evolutionary trait initially meant to protect us from impending danger. In the case of water, this phenomenon is easily observable. The surface of a body of water is largely static, inducing relaxation in the beholder. But when there is a disruption on the surface of the water (a ripple or a wave) the change triggers the production of dopamine in our brains. And since human beings know the nature of a body of water is to move and change—and then revert to its original shape—our brains experience “regularity without monotony”—a condition the brain craves.

The sensation of feeling relaxed near or in water is something many of us have experienced, and people have recognized the profound effect water has on our health and well-being for centuries. But why is this so? Through a variety of disciplines—biology, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, economics, and more—and a variety of research methods and technologies, Nichols provides insights and answers to this complicated question.

Here at URI, the ocean is a part of who we are. On the following pages, you’ll meet URI scientists who personify the essence of blue mind. The ocean is their home, and, because they’ve discovered that it connects them to something greater than themselves, they’re committed to caring for it. •

—Lauren Poirier

Lauren Poirier ’21 is majoring in English and public relations and is an intern in URI’s Marketing and Communications Department.