Of cricket chirps and car horns: The effect of nature sounds on cognitive performance
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Attention restoration theory (ART) posits that stimuli found in nature may restore directed attention functioning by reducing demands on the endogenous attention system. In the present experiment, we assessed whether nature-related cognitive benefits extended to auditory presentations of nature, a topic that has been understudied. To assess directed attention, we created a composite measure consisting of a backward digit span task and a dual n-back task. Participants completed these cognitive measures and an affective questionnaire before and after listening to and aesthetically judging either natural or urban soundscapes (between-participants). Relative to participants who were exposed to urban soundscapes, we observed significant improvements in cognitive performance for individuals exposed to nature. Urban soundscapes did not systematically affect performance either adversely or beneficially. Natural sounds did not differentially change positive or negative affect, despite these sounds being aesthetically preferred to urban sounds. These results provide initial evidence that brief experiences with natural sounds can improve directed attention functioning in a single experimental session.
KeywordsAttention Cognitive and attentional control Attention restoration theory Nature
This work was supported by a grant from the TKF Foundation to Marc G. Berman, two grants from the John Templeton Foundation (the University of Chicago Center for Practical Wisdom) to Howard Nusbaum (PI) and Marc G. Berman (co-PI) and the Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning of Life Scholars Group. This work was also supported by grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS-1632445) to Marc G. Berman, as well as an internal grant from the University of Chicago to Marc G. Berman.
Compliance with ethical standards
The authors would like to dedicate this paper to Stephen Kaplan (1936–2018).
Declaration of Competing Interests
Martin Buschkuehl is employed at the MIND Research Institute, whose interest is related to this work and Susanne M. Jaeggi has an indirect financial interest in the MIND Research Institute. All other authors report no conflict of interest.
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