A systematic review of attention restoration theory



Heather Ohly and Ruth Garside, working with colleagues at Exeter and elsewhere, have undertaken a systematic review of evidence for the relative attention restoration potential of natural settings compared to other settings.

‘Attention Restoration Theory’ (ART) is used to explain some of the apparent benefits of exposure to natural environments. In the paper Heather and her co-authors describe the theory:

From a psychological perspective, urban lifestyles impose increasing demands on our cognitive resources. According to ART these enhanced demands on directed attention may be linked to attention fatigue. The antidote, the theory claims, is to take time out from attention-demanding tasks associated with modern life, and spend time in natural environments that demand less of our cognitive resources and enable us to recover our attentional capacities.

The synthesis and meta-analyses showed that there is some support for ART, with significant positive effects of exposure to natural environments for three types of measures of attention restoration, however a further 10 meta-analyses did not show beneficial effects.

The authors make a number of recommendations for future research into ART:

  1. more needs to be done to gain a better understanding of which underlying attentional processes are influenced by nature the most
  2. there is a need to identify and use the most appropriate measures in a consistent way across multiple studies
  3. more should be done to should encourage complete reporting of experimental outcomes and processes, including publishing negative findings, to allow an accurate and fair appraisal of study quality

Ohly, H., White, M. P., Wheeler, B. W., Bethel, A., Ukoumunne, O. C., Nikolaou, V., & Garside, R. (2016). Attention Restoration Theory: A Systematic Review of the Attention Restoration Potential of Exposure to Natural Environments.

Picture Karen Matthews.

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