Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Kimberly Quinn, PhD
Joseph Mikels, PhD
The benefit of natural environments, compared to urban environments, to cognitive resources such as working memory have been documented and replicated (e.g., Berman et al., 2012; Berman et al., 2008; Berto, 2005). However, existing data do not extend beyond lower-order cognitive resources to higher-order cognitive processes such as problem solving. The goal of this thesis was to address this gap. The experiment tested both the beneficial effect of nature on executive function and problem solving. Using a backward digit-span task to measure working memory, I hypothesized that participants would repeat a higher number of sequences correctly after versus before viewing nature images, but not urban-environment images. Using a grid-pattern task (Adams et al., 2021) to assess problem solving, I hypothesized that participants would be more likely to make subtractive changes after versus before viewing nature compared to urban-environment images. Results did not support the hypotheses. Participants performed significantly better on the grid task after image viewing, regardless of image type. Participants also liked nature images better than urban-environment images, but liking was not correlated with working-memory or problem-solving performance. I finish with a discussion in which I argue that the lack of significant effects for image type suggests future research should only be conducted outside of the lab, and with the speculation that the restorative effect of nature might be attributed more to affective rather than cognitive mechanisms.
Ailsworth, Caitlin Julia, "The Positive Impact of Exposure to Nature versus Urban-Environment Images on Cognitive Processing: Working Memory and Problem Solving" (2023). College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations. 478.