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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: 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...

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  • (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.