Dan’s Hike, Part 2: Natural Benefits

By: Stephanie Tepper

 

There is no shortage of research heralding the restorative psychological benefits of spending time in nature, a fact that is certainly not lost on Dan. As he enters the third week of his hike on the Israel National Trail, we’ll look into his feelings of love towards nature, another sentiment that has remained consistently high (aside from a few muddy stretches of time).

If you were to visit us at the CAH tomorrow, it’s likely that you would overhear someone talking about “choice architecture.” The majority of our research focuses on how our choices are influenced by the way that they’re presented to us. While we like to think we’re rational decision-makers, we can be humbled by recognizing the occasional flaws in the choices we make. For example, I like to think back to the last time I regrettably went grocery shopping while hungry and picked up a few too many chocolate bars at the cash register. We all have a limited amount of cognitive resources to spare, making us susceptible to these environmental influences. 

For a real walk in Dan’s shoes, see here.

Our work at the lab is around making small tweaks to these choice environments to help people make better decisions. While most environments that we work in tend to foster difficult decisions, Dan’s adventure brings us into a new territory of choice environments — one that has actually been shown to restore our attention rather than deplete it. In a study by researchers at the University of Michigan, participants who walked for 50 minutes in the local arboretum performed better on several tasks of attention compared to students who walked downtown. In a follow-up, the team found that just looking at pictures of nature for 10 minutes led to higher scores on measures of attention. This, along with the extensive body of research on similar effects, suggests that spending time in nature can yield potentially powerful psychological benefits.

While we unfortunately can’t administer any attention tests to Dan at the moment, we look forward to perusing his updates to see how his time in nature has affected him. So far, the muddy days led to slight spikes in regret, while his otherwise consistent love of nature has mirrored steady rates of happiness. If 50 minutes in nature can yield positive effects, we’ll be curious to see what 4 weeks can do.

Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212.