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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 JoeMerchant on Friday February 02, @06:21PM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @06:21PM (#1342846)

    > I always found a "star trek" type of environment to be more appealing.

    Kirk and McCoy on the original 5 year mission... not so much, I didn't want to enroll in the nuclear submarine corps either.

    TNG - that was fantasy land for sure. Nearly unlimited cheap energy at the base of it all.

    Both lived in the fantasy of a world where all humans "got along" and worked together for common goals. Until we achieve that, reality is gonna continue to suck.

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  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 02, @06:31PM (1 child)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 02, @06:31PM (#1342849) Journal

    Yep. Humans are the problem in any utopia fantasy.

    Our tech is (mostly) great. But humans are the root of the problems we have. Greed. Lust. If only Dr. Morbius [] could carefully hand out tech advancements as and when he thinks humanity is ready for them.

    I also recognized in TNG that their utopia was largely from unlimited cheap energy combined with technology like replicators. DS9 made that even more clear. At some point in DS9 some senior Federation people back on earth described the then modern earth as a paradise.

    "It is now safe to turn off your computer." -- HAL 9000

    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, @06:46PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 02, @06:46PM (#1342851)

      I thought it was a little sad that Roddenberry couldn't conceive of a United Earth without having bi-weekly interactions with common enemies like the Klingons (dark skinned warriors...) and Romulans (Russians, by any other name?)

      Of course "First Contact" had to be with a peaceful future ally, otherwise we'd have been blasted into the Flintstones within the year.

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