We compare the restorative effects on cognitive functioning of interactions with natural versus urban environments. Attention restoration theory (ART) pro- vides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities. Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish. Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and ad- ditionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative. We present two experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities as measured with a backwards digit-span task and the Attention Network Task, thus validating attention resto- ration theory.
The statistical effect seems quite robust. Basically, in the first experiment, people tried to repeat digit sequences backwards (which stresses short term memory) for 35 minutes, then went for either kind of walk, then did another set of tests. Performance was measured by the average number of digits subjects could reverse. It improved by half a digit for the urban walk, but 1.5 digits for the country walk.
As a new rural telecommuter, that's all the excuse I need to head out snowshoeing at lunch after a busy morning of coding or statistical analysis.