Sustained attention is the skill of maintaining concentration and inhibiting distractions (Robertson et al., 1997), which is difficult to maintain and fluctuates over time (Williams et al., 2018). This important form of attention underpins more complex cognitive functions, and everyday tasks like driving and learning, making it a good candidate for nature interventions. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) proposes that exposure to particular environments, especially nature, helps to restore attention after depletion because natural environments gently capture externally-focused attention processes, thereby allowing internally-focused attention, like sustained attention, to rest and be replenished (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). Sustained attention has often, but not always, been associated with performance improvement after exposure to nature. Two recent meta-analyses revealed that the effect size of nature exposure on sustained attention performance was small in adult participants (Ohly et al., 2016; Stevenson et al., 2018). Very few well-controlled studies on the effects of nature on attention control have been conducted with child participants. The mechanisms underpinning the effects of nature exposure on sustained attention performance are not well understood – two pathways will be explored in this study. One mechanism through which exposure to nature may improve attention is through connection to nature. The hypothesis is that the beneficial effects of nature on sustained attention performance, and a person's perception of feeling restored, may depend on how much the participant felt connected to nature (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Another mechanism through which nature exposure may be operating is through emotional rather than through cognitive mechanisms.
Research Questions / Hypotheses
Aim: Does viewing a restorative image of nature help maintain sustained attention control in children and adults? Hypothesis: Viewing the more restorative nature images will be associated with a maintenance of attention control, compared with viewing the less restorative nature images, in both children and adults. Aim: Is the strength of feeling connected to nature associated with a greater feeling of perceived restoration after viewing the restorative nature images? Hypothesis: The strength of feeling connected to nature will be associated with a greater feeling of perceived restoration after viewing the more restorative nature images. Aim: Does viewing a more restorative image of nature help improve one's mood state? Hypothesis: Viewing the more restorative nature image will be associated with an improvement in mood, in both children and adults. Aim: Will there be a difference in these associations between children and adults? Hypothesis: No, the associations will be similar between the children and adults.
This is an ongoing study. Six participants have completed the study through REP.
Participants completed a demographic questionnaire at the start of the procedure. Participants were then asked to rank a series of photos of nature that they would prefer to view on a break. The current mood and sleepiness of participants was then assessed via an online survey. Participants then completed the random variant of the Sustained Attention to Attention Task (SART) to assess sustained attention. Participants then had a 60 second break where they viewed either their highest, middle, or lowest ranked image. After the break, participants performed the SART again. Then, the sleepiness and current mood of participants was assessed once more. Finally, perceived restoration, connectedness to nature, and perceived restorative value of the image were assessed via an online survey.
Linear mixed models will be used to analyse associations between the factors (preference of image viewed, current mood state, sleepiness, connectedness to nature, perceived restoration after viewing the image, and perceived restorative value of the image) and performance on the computerised task.
We will understand better how important taking a break is for children as they complete a computerised task. We will understand better whether viewing a more preferred nature-based image during the break is more beneficial than viewing a less preferred nature-based image. This research will also help us to understand the mechanisms underpinning the possible benefits of time spent with nature. Nature-based therapies are increasingly being used to help people in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and workplaces. Greater knowledge about the mechanisms underpinning these therapies will help ensure the therapies are most efficacious. This study will be submitted as an Honours thesis in 2022 and a Masters thesis in 2023.