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.

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The Restorative Benefits of Hiking and its Relationship to Job Satisfaction

Hiker Bill Boydston on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina (USA) Photo by Mark Ellison

The November/December Issue of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine Journeys includes an article in which I review the results of the study I completed earlier this year for my dissertation at North Carolina State University on the restorative benefits of hiking in wilderness solitude and its relationship to job satisfaction.

Read the article via this link (scroll to page 3):   http://www.appalachiantrail.org/docs/atj/2011/04/15/atj-november-december-2010.pdf

The Importance of Solitude

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William Deresiewicz penned an excellent article last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education about “the end of solitude”  (http://chronicle.com/article/The-End-of-Solitude/3708).

Experiencing solitude, ideally in nature, is a wonderful way to rest  attention capacities, and reflect on life. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan (1989), faculty at the University of Michigan,  explain the importance of attention restoration that time in nature provides. They describe how the resting of voluntary, or directed attention (attention that requires effort to stay focused) is possible when we are in natural environments that offer “soft fascination” such as bird songs, waterfalls, views of sunsets and the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Environments that offer soft fascination allow directed attention to rest, and involuntary attention to become active. Involuntary attention does not require effort. This relaxing of the mind can have many psychological benefits, and provides opportunities for reflection.

Those of us who spend time in nature can help to re-introduce a culture that has become disconnected from it. Technology and the pace of urban life now consume many people who are addicted to instant access to information and constant connectivity. We can help others understand that there is value in  nature, that it  provides unique opportunities to experience solitude, and to reflect.

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