Restoring Attentional Resources

There are techniques for restoring attentional resources. See the Blog Post “The Relaxation Response.” Another approach comes from Attention Resource Theory (ART) 12. In the nineteenth century the famous psychologist William James made a distinction between two types of attention: 3 involuntary attention, when attention is captured by inherently important or intriguing stimuli, and voluntary or directed attention, when attention is directed by cognitive-control processes. 

According to ART, directed attention involves resolving conflict when there is a need to suppress distracting stimulation, which depletes attentional resources. According to ART, interactions with nature can restore these attentional resources.

Berman, Jonides, and Kaplan 4 performed two experiments assessing ART.  In the first experiment there were two groups:  one group took a 50-55 minute walk in the city, while the other group took a 50-55 minute walk in the woods.  Both groups performed a tasks that both assessed and depleted directed attentional resources before and after their respective walks.   The walk in the woods group performed about 20% better than the walk in the city group.  A second experiment followed the same basic structure as the first, but this time the experimental participants viewed pictures of natural or urban settings rather than walking.  Similar results were obtained documenting the restorative effects of nature.

So attention is extremely important to memory and cognitive functioning.  Attention is depleted and needs to be restored.  Attentional resources vary throughout the day.  These are important points to remember when planning your day.  It is also important to engange in effortful Type 2 processing5.   As we age the vast repository of memory and experience makes it both easier and more likely to rely upon Type 1 processing.  Although this is one of the potential benefits of aging, there remains a need to continue to engage in appropriate Type 2 processes to ward off cognitive decline.

1Kaplan, S. (1995).  The restorative benefits of nature:  Toward an integrative framework.  Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15,  160-189

2Kaplan, S. (2001).  Meditation, restoration, and the management of mental fatigue. Environment and Behavior, 33, 480-506.

3James, W.  Psychology:  The briefer course.   New York:  Holt.

4Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S.  (2009).  The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.  Psychological Science, 19,  1207-1212. 

5See the previous post on this blog “The Two System View of Cognition”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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