Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Kate Naughton 

BSc [Hons] Applied Psychology

I am Interested in the areas of Environmental Psychology, Health Psychology and Educational Psychology. I hope to continue on to further study psychology at a postgraduate level.

The Impact of Urban Environments and Nature Relatedness on Directed Attention Restoration.

Environmental psychology research has identified that exposure to natural environments is associated with restoration of fatigued directed attention and improved cognitive performance. Although restoration likelihood has been mainly linked to natural environments, recent research has indicated that urban environments may have restorative potential. Restoration may also be influenced by individual factors such as how an individual connects with nature, known as nature relatedness. This study aimed to investigate the impact of exposure to both a natural virtual environment and urban virtual environment on the directed attention of participants with different levels of nature relatedness.

Project Description

This study used a quantitative, quasi-experimental design to investigate if exposure to a natural or urban virtual environment improves directed attention, an aspect of executive function. The inclusion of nature relatedness as a variable investigates if improvements in directed attention are impacted by how the individual relates to nature. Participants were recruited online using convenience and snowball sampling with a total of 112 participants ranging from 18 to 58 years old.
The study was conducted online using Qualtrics. Nature relatedness was investigated by asking participants to fill in the Nature Relatedness Scale (NR-6) which asks questions such as “I take notice of wildlife wherever I am”. The directed attention performance of participants was then measured using the Backward Digit Span task where participants were required to view six separate sequences of numbers and then recall and input the sequence in reverse order. Participants were then randomly allocated to view either the urban environment video or the natural environment video. After the six-minute video participants completed the backward digit span task for a second time.

Project Findings

In contrast to previous research, the results indicated that while the directed attention of participants improved after exposure to both the nature and urban video, The directed attention of participants who viewed the urban environment video was significantly improved compared to those who viewed the nature video, regardless of nature relatedness. The findings of this study suggest that, brief virtual exposure to an urban café is effective in temporarily restoring fatigued directed attention.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the metal burden on individuals, virtual urban environments such as cafés could be a useful tool to improve attentional focus and increase positive affect. Employers could adopt environmental exposure as a strategy for employees to invest in physical and cognitive recovery. Which would be of particular benefit for employees who are working remotely.
As a majority of people live in urban areas, indoor urban environments could provide more individuals of all generations with the opportunity for restorative experience.