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posted by hubie on Friday February 02, @12:04PM   Printer-friendly

New research from University of Utah psychology researchers is helping prove what American authors John Muir and Henry David Thoreau tried to teach more than 150 years ago: Time spent in nature is good for the heart and soul.

Amy McDonnell and David Strayer are showing it is good for your brain, too. Their latest research, conducted at the university's Red Butte Garden, uses electroencephalography (EEG), which records electrical activity in the brain with small discs attached to the scalp, to measure participants' attentional capacity.

"A walk in nature enhances certain executive control processes in the brain above and beyond the benefits associated with exercise," concludes the study appearing in Scientific Reports. The paper contributes to the growing body of scientific literature on how natural settings contribute to a person's physical and mental health. The university itself has recently established a new research group, Nature and Human Health Utah, that explores these issues and proposes solutions for bridging the human-nature divide.

Many researchers suspect a primal need for nature is baked into humans' DNA, and diminishing access to nature is putting our health at risk.

"There's an idea called biophilia that basically says that our evolution over hundreds of thousands of years has got us to have more of a connection or a love of natural living things," said Strayer, a professor of psychology. "And our modern urban environment has become this dense urban jungle with cell phones and cars and computers and traffic, just the opposite of that kind of restorative environment."

Strayer's past research into multitasking and distracted driving associated with cellphone use has drawn national attention. For the past decade, his lab has focused on how nature affects cognition. The new research was part of McDonnell's dissertation as a grad student in Strayer's Applied Cognition Lab. She has since completed her Ph.D. and is continuing the attention research as a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Utah.

The study, conducted in 2022 between April and October, analyzed EEG data recorded on each of 92 participants immediately before and after they undertook a 40-minute walk. Half walked through Red Butte, the arboretum in the foothills just east of the university, and half through the nearby asphalt-laden medical campus.
"The participants that had walked in nature showed an improvement in their executive attention on that task, whereas the urban walkers did not, so then we know it's something unique about the environment that you're walking in," McDonnell said. "We know exercise benefits executive attention as well, so we want to make sure both groups have comparable amounts of exercise."

What sets this study apart from much of the existing research into the human-nature nexus is its reliance on EEG data as opposed to surveys and self-reporting, which do yield helpful information but can be highly subjective.

Journal Reference:
Amy S. McDonnell et al, Immersion in nature enhances neural indices of executive attention, Scientific Reports (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-024-52205-1

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Friday February 02, @01:07PM (11 children)

    by VLM (445) on Friday February 02, @01:07PM (#1342778)

    dense urban jungle with cell phones and cars and computers and traffic

    I would theorize rather than a stressful desktop windows 11 PC jumping into ones path while on a walk in the hood, the problem with urban areas is urbanites. Stress due to high crime, vandalism, crazy homeless people, poop on the sidewalks, needles and crack/meth pipes on the ground, advertisements everywhere. Versus a nice comfy enclosed security patrolled parklike empty area being lower stress.

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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @01:43PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @01:43PM (#1342790)

    I need to look up the statistics (unreliable as they may be) again, but depression and suicide is common among the wealthy and comfortable - particularly the too-comfortable.

    I think it's slightly more common in the "highly challenged" ranks of society who have no choice but to deal with urbanite problems, certainly in the forms of slow self-destruction like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. but... the rich do that too.

    🌻🌻 []
  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @01:46PM (8 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @01:46PM (#1342791)

    Peter Gabriel put it this way on the "Shock the Monkey" album:

    The time I like is the rush hour, 'cause I like the rush
    The pushing of the people, I like it all so much
    Such a mass of motion, do not know where it goes
    I move with the movement and, I have the touch
    I'm waiting for ignition, I'm looking for a spark
    Any chance collision and I light up in the dark
    There you stand before me, all that fur and all that hair
    Oh, do I dare, I have the touch
    Wanting contact
    I'm wanting contact
    I'm wanting contact with you
    Shake those hands, shake those hands
    Give me the thing I understand
    Shake those hands, shake those hands
    Shake those hands, shake those hands
    Any social occasion, it's hello, how do you do
    All those introductions, I never miss my cue
    So before a question, so before a doubt
    My hand moves out and, I have the touch

    🌻🌻 []
    • (Score: 2, Funny) by nostyle on Friday February 02, @02:29PM (7 children)

      by nostyle (11497) on Friday February 02, @02:29PM (#1342796) Journal

      Well done, and let me compliment your style. Then there's ZZ Top's TLDR version:

      I ain't asking for much
      I said, Lord, take me downtown
      I'm just looking for some tush

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @04:27PM (6 children)

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @04:27PM (#1342817)

        Downtown does seem exciting to adolescent humans "wanting contact / lookin' for some tush" but when you strip away the cognitive assault of all the printed words and flashing lights, it's actually a pretty dull place compared with an old growth forest, or even the open savannas before our ancestors extincted the megafauna. We spend 10-20 years in school learning to understand / interpret spoken and printed words and symbols, instead of spending that time "in the woods" learning all there is to know about the sights, sounds, smells, rhythms, relationships, etc. of the natural world like the millions of pre-urban generations before us did. We need that "school knowledge" to navigate modern society, but genetically we've got much deeper programming for navigation of natural spaces.

        🌻🌻 []
        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 02, @04:59PM (5 children)

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 02, @04:59PM (#1342828) Journal

          In the modern society we live longer and certainly more comfortably. Have a vast multitude of conveniences. Entertainment.

          We don't generally worry about nocturnal predators eating us when we lie down at night.

          Most children now survive past age ten.

          The modern world is not without its advantages.

          As for the 10-20 years spent getting an education, that has often been done for millennia, to some extent, before modern technology.

          The rise of technology and the modern world, from the first use of fire, spears, clubs and wheels to the intarweb tubes and space fright are just a continuous effort by humans to make their world easier and more comfortable. And on an academic level, to understand the world around us. That it surprisingly isn't flat. That electromagnetic principles can be useful and labor saving rather than simply a parlor trick.

          With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
          • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @05:22PM (4 children)

            by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @05:22PM (#1342840)

            I'm not saying we should give up modern life, but to ignore the billion+ years of evolution that brought us to the point of being able to build the modern world would be foolish.

            Early Star Trek would occasionally poke fun at modernization of food (and maybe other things) with little concentrated colorful things to eat, then the aliens came along who only ate one super pill a day - Kirk points out "we prefer to continue to eat..."

            TNG brought in the holodeck, and while it was an infinitely variable environment, they most often used it to return to more natural / older settings.

            Keep school (fuck student loans), keep extending lifespans - but recognize when you've gone too far or forgotten what's important. End-stage MDs are particular whack-jobs, my Grandfather had circulation problems in his legs, he had a scare/hospitalization one year, then he had a good healthy lucid year after that with full awareness that the next time he would probably lose a leg. When that time came, the MD couldn't understand his decision to die rather than amputate (in his 70s). "If there's a chance to save life, you ALWAYS do that!" Granddad didn't see it that way, he saw life in his 70s without his leg as being an un-necessary burden to his wife and himself. Stacking our elders in "memory care" facilities to live out their days unable to interact with the world, in a pretty jail, going seven kinds of crazy while their offspring visit once or twice a year? Too far in my book. Even if they do get to walk in the gardens three days a week with a support nurse, when the weather is nice.

            🌻🌻 []
            • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 02, @05:32PM (3 children)

              by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 02, @05:32PM (#1342842) Journal

              It is good to recognize when you're going too far before you go there.

              Will we as a species, do that with AI, which seems to be the big scary thing these days?

              When end of life medical issues become too much it sure would be nice if it were possible for an individual to make a rational sane well informed choice to bring it to an end.

              I remember student loans. But they weren't that bad back in the day. The education I got in return allowed me to make a decent living right out of school. Within just over half a decade I got a major bump my salary and decided the slow repayment of the student loan wasn't worth the trouble of hand-writing checks and mailing (remember that?) and just paid it off while looking for a new car.

              It feels NOW like the world really is in trouble. (But the old people said that back when I was young?) The memories I have of a lifetime are that the time I lived in was about the best time to be born in to.

              With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
              • (Score: 3, Interesting) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @06:05PM (1 child)

                by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @06:05PM (#1342844)

                My view on end of life is: if you wanna go, you should be able to go. I think something along the lines of a year long process with declaration of intent given to a counselor monthly should be enough. Life insurance policies should include a 90% refund of all premiums paid if you go the legal suicide route. Maybe if you get the consent of your legal spouse and all contactable living family, you could accelerate the process for compassionate reasons, but still there should be a legal option. The counselors should pry about your problems, put you in touch with resources that can help, etc. But otherwise, we get even more people flinging themselves from high places (as happened in my 12 story college dorm about once ever 2 years, not students, just people from the street who snuck in past security...)

                If we "create" an AI that we can't control, I say we've gotten what we deserve. Much like the building of London over the centuries as a plague pit, fire trap, cess pool and every other kind of urban woe - difference being: an out of control AI will likely have global consequences, much like letting the oil industry run rampant for 80+ years...

                I had an $8K student loan taken in 1985 - right at the beginning of the program. Tuition at my University more than doubled during my 4 undergrad years, from $10K to $20K in round numbers, my four years were $60K in round sum. Starting sophmore year they extended new scholarships that meant I got a full ride instead of half, but a few years later they spun down the extra aid as they calibrated for just how much they could charge without losing enrollment. The quality of education didn't noticeably improve, we did get a couple of new fountains on campus to have nice photo-op landmarks. Basically, the University started pumping up their endowment by getting their students to mortgage their future incomes to the school, payback guaranteed by Reagan's administration and its successors.

                >the time I lived in was about the best time to be born in to

                I wonder how much of that is a kind of evolved self-psychology... When you consider the "best time" it should really be the "best space-time" accounting for where, and to whom, you are born. The decades I have lived have presented life in the present-day US through rose tinted glasses to ourselves and the rest of the world. I don't have much to complain about, but then when I compare my single income to the median income in my zip code, county, state and country, my take home pay is well above median household income, so... by the numbers, most US citizens can't solve their problems with a credit card swipe the way my wife and I can. But, to look at popular media, we're ghetto in our barely 2000 square foot home with old cars on a not-so glamorous side of town...

                My parent's generation certainly took a huge step up in quality of life compared to their parents... I'm on track to more or less match my parents opportunities and outcome, my brother 5 years younger not so much. My children 35ish years younger, not at all - unless my parents' generation cashes out and hands down their hoards before rising sea level crashes the value of their waterfront property, or they spend it all on whatever they need in their twilight years. My personal hoard is tracking to be about 50% of my mother's, after he divorced my father "married well" to a woman 10 years older than me so it's hard to guess how much, if any, of her sizeable recent inheritance will ever get to my children. My children, and most of their generation, are on track to die broke.

                I could have been born on the same day in the same hospital to different parents and had a very different life. Most of the other babies born that day in that place didn't have even half my opportunities. Most of them also had black skin...

                🌻🌻 []
                • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 04, @01:23AM

                  by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 04, @01:23AM (#1342989)

                  But otherwise, we get even more people flinging themselves from high places (as happened in my 12 story college dorm about once ever 2 years, not students, just people from the street who snuck in past security...)

                  I always liked the description of how the arcology building in Niven and Pournelle's Oath of Fealty handled that. As the biggest building around, they got a lot of jumpers. When people got to the roof, there was an unclimbable fence all the way around - except for one small section where they had a diving board.

              • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @10:22PM

                by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @10:22PM (#1342872)

                Just to hit student loans one more time... back in the day they weren't bad at all...

                I took $8K in student loans freshman year, 8% interest but zero until I got out of school. I went for a Master's so I took 6.5 years. During those years you could get 5% interest in passbook savings, so instead of giving "the man" $8k up front, I took the loans, then paid them almost immediately upon getting out, earning over $2700 in interest on that $8K while I was in school. Now, I personally wasn't holding that $8k at the time, but my family was... That interest just about covered the car insurance my mom paid for me as long as I was in school...

                Of course, sophomore year the bank - without telling me at all - put my loans into repayment status and of course since I didn't know they were in repayment status they ran up to 120 days past due before the bank noticed and took them out of repayment, again without telling me, but with putting that 30, 60, 90, 120 days past due on my credit report - which I didn't discover until trying to get a mortgage some years later...

                🌻🌻 []
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Freeman on Friday February 02, @03:40PM

    by Freeman (732) on Friday February 02, @03:40PM (#1342806) Journal

    I mean, if there's security it's there for a reason. About the only place I actually like to have the "security" is in national parks with park rangers roaming about. In the event that you need to have a security force roaming about your "idealistic park", perhaps you should move. Yes, big cities have some advantages to little towns. Live 30 to 45 minutes outside of a big city and you'll actually start to see why living in a big city is generally awful. While being 30-45 minutes outside of the big city isn't "the country" by any means, those places are generally a lot nicer to live. You just have to be willing to commute to the big city, if your job is there. Better yet, find a work from home job.

    Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"