New Course on Nature, Environment & Human Health

I’m teaching a new course this fall on “Nature, Environment, and Human Health at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences. The course is based off of my dissertation that I completed last year at North Carolina State University.  Additional information is available at http://www.cabarruscollege.edu/content/news/2011/061311-NatureCourse.pdf

This is also a recent article on the class: http://www2.independenttribune.com/lifestyles/2011/jun/22/new-course-highlights-links-between-being-outdoors-ar-1143750/

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Attention Restoration Offers Many Health Benefits

The attention restoration benefits of spending time in nature have been documented in a number of studies (Berto, 2005; Berman et al., 2008; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). William James (1892) described two types of attention: voluntary and involuntary. Attention that demands effort, or is forced because it lacks interest is called voluntary or directed. Voluntary attention is what is used when we are at work and constantly have interruptions, phone calls, and noise demanding attention. Involuntary attention is passive, reflexive and requires no effort or will when in an attentive state (Kaplan, 1978). Spending time in nature allows involuntary attention to be used. Utilizing involuntary attention rests voluntary (directed ) attention, helping  it to heal from the fatigue caused by constant demands on attention experienced in urban and work environments.

An article published in 2010 by Kaplan & Berman looks at how directed attention is a common resource for executive functioning and self regulation. The authors recognize the need for additional research on the health benefits of attention restoration.  Read the article at http://cartalk.com/ddc/wp-content/uploads/Perspectives-on-Psychological-Science-2010-Kaplan-43-57.pdf

This article is another indication that there are possible benefits from spending time in nature that impact many aspects of functioning and performance. Indeed, additional research is needed to learn more about how nature benefits human health.

Berman, M, Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008) The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212.

Berto, R. (2005). Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attention capacity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 249-259.

James, W. (1892). Psychology: The briefer course. New York: Holt.

Kaplan, S. (1978). Attention and fascination: The search for cognitive clarity. Humanscape: environments for people.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.