Does technological nature make us smarter: testing the impact of nature on cognition

Spending time in nature can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, decrease post-operative recovery time, and improve cognition (e.g., Berger & Tiry, 2012; Kaplan, 1995; Ottosson & Grahn, 2005). Unfortunately, because American adults spend ninety-three percent of their lives indoors, and American children watch roughly 30 hours of television per week, many people are not reaping the benefits of nature (Environmental Protection Agency, 2016). Simulated natural environments, known as technological nature, have been shown to improve mood and decrease stress (e.g., Ulrich, Lundén & Eltinge, 1993). Technological nature, a type of simulated natural environment, is nature that is provided through technology, such as screensavers and artificial windows. While some benefits of technological nature have been found for measures of psychological wellbeing, the impacts on cognition are not well understood. Thus, the present study aimed to explore the impact of technological nature on cognition; specifically, on tasks that measure text comprehension, attention, short-term memory, long-term memory, health perceptions, and decision-making. Participants were asked to complete five tasks measuring these cognitive functions and were assigned to one of five conditions (nature, technological nature, color-control condition, white control condition, time-control condition). Those in the nature condition completed the tasks alongside plants that were placed throughout the room. In addition, these participants had a view of trees through a nearby window. Those in the technological nature condition viewed a slideshow of plants on a computer screen while completing the tasks. Participants in the color-control condition, viewed a slideshow of colors of the plants on a computer screen, and participants in the white color control and time control conditions viewed a white computer screen. We hypothesized that participants in the nature and technological nature conditions would perform better than those in the control conditions. In addition, we expected better performance for participants in the nature condition relative to those in the technological nature condition. The applications of this work to health and policy will be discussed.