Posts Tagged ‘Attention Restoration Theory’

Think Outside the Box, or Better Yet – Restore Outside the Room

May 9th, 2016 No comments

By Maggie, Meg, Tara, and Raymond

After studying for a long time, do you feel brain-dead, or unable to focus anymore? This fatigue occurs when your attention, or more specifically, directed attention, is depleted. Directed attention is controlled, effortful attention that helps one inhibit irrelevant information in the environment and select important information. Thus, prolonged use of directed attention usually results in mental fatigue, which in turn decreases performance on affective and cognitive measures (Bratman, Hamilton, & Daily, 2012). Exposure to nature can help one recover from this fatigue. Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan, 1995) states that natural settings are restorative because they are often extensive, allow us to be detached from our everyday thoughts and worries, fit our needs for relaxation, and, most importantly, capture our attention automatically and effortlessly. These properties are collectively referred to as soft fascination, in contrast to the hard fascination produced by urban environments. That is, unlike urban environments, nature has very few stimuli that may require our directed attention. For instance, in a forest there is no traffic for us to worry about, nor there is any car honk by our ears.

Previous studies (e.g., Atchley, Strayer, & Atchley, 2012; Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008) have found that after exposure to nature, people tend to perform better on cognitive tasks. For example, in one study, participants completed the Remote Associates Task (RAT; Mednick, 1962) either before going on a hike into the wilderness or on the fourth day of the hike (Atchley et al., 2012). The RAT is a creativity task in which participants have to come up with a word that connects three words that are presented on each trial and that appear to be unrelated (Mednick, 1962). For example, if the three presented words are “swiss,” “cottage,” and “cake,” the correct answer will be “cheese.” The RAT is thought to tax attention and higher-order cognition. The results revealed a 50% boost in performance for participants who completed the task while on the hike (Atchley et al., 2012). Thus, it seems that nature starts to show its positive impact on cognition after three days of exposure. Read more…

What’s Outside Your Window?

May 8th, 2016 No comments

By Leah, Lynna, Aiya, & Hannah

It’s room draw time.

What dorm do I want to be in? Do I want a double? Or a suite? Do I want to be close to the library? The dining hall? Where are my friends living?

b8335f7a0be0c4169a4942f618734848Although all of these questions are valid, an important element of room selection often fails to be considered. You may or may not think about it that much, but the view from your window has important effects on you, particularly if you’re a mentally drained and stressed-out college student. You have to look through it every day, and know which direction it faces relative to the sun. You want to have the best view without worrying about strangers peering in. But besides these concerns, the specifics of your window should be at the top of your dorm priority list. Research shows that a view of nature from your window has immense benefits, including improved mood, replenished attention and cognitive functioning, and reduced stress.

One of the dominant theories explaining nature’s positive cognitive benefits is Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan, 1995). Sustained effortful attention reduces your ability to pay attention. Imagine, for example, the cognitive resources it takes to proofread a long essay, and how exhausted you feel afterwards. You might make more mistakes as time goes on and be in a more negative mood. ART suggests that these cognitive resources can be replenished by engaging with nature (Kaplan, 1995). Proofreading an essay requires effortful sustained focus. Nature is less demanding because it easily draws attention and allows resources for effortful attention to replenish. Read more…