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

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-01-nature-attention.html

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.
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"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: 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...

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