Attention Restoration Theory (ART) asserts that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature. Time in nature seems to help restore our prefrontal cortex, the thick outer layer of our brain that is in charge of planning, decision making, and moderating social behavior, which can become depleted with overuse.
Studies have found that ART can enhance cognitive function. One study in particular found that found that after four days of immersion in nature, and the consequent disconnection from technology, subjects experienced increased performance on creativity and problem-solving tasks. Of course, not all of us have the time to immerse ourselves in nature for four entire days. Luckily, just twenty minutes in a park setting is sufficient to elevate attention performance relative to the same amount of time in other settings.
The variety of research on ART indicate that our environments can enhance attention and that “doses of nature” might even serve as a safe, inexpensive, and accessible tool for those managing ADHD symptoms. Many researchers believe that humans are dependent on nature not only for material needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) but perhaps more importantly for psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. Natural places such as parks offer an opportunity to become revitalized and refreshed while urban areas often mean dealing with environmental demands such as crowds, noise, and pollution. It has been demonstrated that these factors can cause mental fatigue and exhaustion.
I had the good fortune to get a little dose of ART on my birthday weekend, hiking 12 miles in the Philip Burton Wilderness on the Point Reyes Peninsula with my girlfriend Sara. We in the Bay Area are beyond fortunate to have such lush coastal trails and wildflower-filled meadows within a few hours drive. We enjoyed snacking on sweet wild strawberries, smelling the soapy Ceanothus and evading the poison oak and stinging nettle. With regard to ART, there is something to be said about multi-day treks in the wilderness, where your to-do's and distracting electronic devices are left at home. A two night, three day backpacking trip to the Trinity Alps is brewing here. 'Till then, let's keep incorporating daily doses of scenic beauty. Not only will be receive cognitive advantages, but we'll also get a dose of Vitamin D, exercise, fresh air and happiness.
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!