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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

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  • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @01:17PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @01:17PM (#1342782)

    Leave your fucking phone at home.

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  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @02:05PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @02:05PM (#1342793)

    > Leave your fucking phone at home.

    Okay, but what about my other one?

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @02:36PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @02:36PM (#1342797)

    To be honest, leaving the phone at home defeats the purpose of a mobile phone, which is to call for help in an emergency. I prefer to take the phone with me, powered off, and in a pocket. That's just me, though.

    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Friday February 02, @03:46PM

      by Freeman (732) on Friday February 02, @03:46PM (#1342808) Journal

      I prefer to use it as a camera and to have a battery bank + charge cord, so I don't run out of power.

      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"
  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 02, @05:02PM

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 02, @05:02PM (#1342830) Journal

    If I wanted to leave my phone at home, I wouldn't have bought a mobile phone in the first place.

    The entire reason to have it, is to have it available at all times in case it is needed. You don't have to let it run your life. It's purpose is to help you, not make you a slave to it. Rather than leave it at home, simply learn to control it. Silence it or turn it off.

    When trying to solve a problem don't ask who suffers from the problem, ask who profits from the problem.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @06:14PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, @06:14PM (#1342845)

    OK to leave in car if you're on a trail used by a lot of people, but if you twist your ankle in the middle of somewhere you might be alone, you at least want a chance. A PLB is really the best thing for that, but most people don't have those.

    A better piece of advice is to be judicious about the phone--quit taking it out every 5 minutes. It can definitely ruin the vibe.