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Concept: Attention restoration theory


Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Educational psychology, Problem solving, Attention restoration theory, Creative problem solving


We seek to understand what is known about the use of visual art-making for people who have a cancer diagnosis, and to explore how art-making may help address fatigue in the cancer care context. Art-making involves creating art or craft alone or in a group and does not require an art-therapist as the emphasis is on creativity rather than an overt therapeutic intention. An integrative review was undertaken of qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method studies on art-making for people who have cancer, at any stage of treatment or recovery. An adapted version of Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART) was used to interpret the themes found in the literature. Fifteen studies were reviewed. Nine concerned art-making programmes and six were focused on individual, non-facilitated art-making. Review results suggested that programme-based art-making may provide participants with opportunities for learning about self, support, enjoyment and distraction. Individual art-making can provides learning about self, diversion and pleasure, self-management of pain, a sense of control, and enhanced social relationships. When viewed through the lens of ART, art-making can be understood as an energy-restoring activity that has the potential to enhance the lives of people with a diagnosis of cancer.

Concepts: Medicine, Cancer, Understanding, Attention, Knowledge, Attention restoration theory, Art, Behavioral concepts


Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests the ability to concentrate may be restored by exposure to natural environments. Although widely cited, it is unclear as to the quantity of empirical evidence that supports this. A systematic review regarding the impact of exposure to natural environments on attention was conducted. Seven electronic databases were searched. Studies were included if (1) they were natural experiments, randomized investigations, or recorded “before and after” measurements; (2) compared natural and nonnatural/other settings; and (3) used objective measures of attention. Screening of articles for inclusion, data extraction, and quality appraisal were performed by one reviewer and checked by another. Where possible, random effects meta-analysis was used to pool effect sizes. Thirty-one studies were included. Meta-analyses provided some support for ART, with significant positive effects of exposure to natural environments for three measures (Digit Span Forward, Digit Span Backward, and Trail Making Test B). The remaining 10 meta-analyses did not show marked beneficial effects. Meta-analysis was limited by small numbers of investigations, small samples, heterogeneity in reporting of study quality indicators, and heterogeneity of outcomes. This review highlights the diversity of evidence around ART in terms of populations, study design, and outcomes. There is uncertainty regarding which aspects of attention may be affected by exposure to natural environments.

Concepts: Attention, Effect, Evidence-based medicine, Systematic review, Natural environment, Effect size, Meta-analysis, Attention restoration theory


During cognitive tasks requiring externally directed attention, activation in the default-network (DN) typically decreases below baseline levels (‘deactivation’). Healthy aging is associated with reduced deactivation, which is usually attributed to a failure to suppress DN processes. Recent evidence instead suggests that older adults may be more reliant on DN than young adults when performing these tasks.

Concepts: Attention, Cognitive neuroscience, Ageing, Attention restoration theory


Pseudoneglect is influenced by vertical visual field stimulation, such that attentional biases are stronger for upper space distractors. Leftward biases result from right hemisphere visuospatial processing, and may be accentuated by additional right hemisphere activation during upper space distraction. Three experiments examined potential explanations for this finding. Experiment 1 controlled for perceptual grouping and leftward biases remained stronger in upper space. Experiment 2 used peripheral distractors to eliminate two further potential explanations: centre-of-mass and framing effects. Eye tracking was included to compare overt and covert attention. Findings supported the occurrence of a stronger leftward attentional bias during upper space distraction. Distractors were rarely fixated, suggesting covert attentional mechanisms are preferentially drawn toward upper space distractors. Experiment 3 employed a cueing paradigm that purposefully directed attention away from centre to determine whether pseudoneglect was influenced by overt attentional orienting. Results indicated that when attention was overtly directed away from centre, the strength of pseudoneglect did not differ based on visual field. It is concluded that covert attention toward upper space distractors recruits additional right hemisphere activation, leading existing leftward biases to be accentuated.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Left-wing politics, Visual system, Sense, Cognitive bias, Attention restoration theory, Attention span


Developments in lighting technologies have allowed more dynamic digital billboards in locations visible from the roadway. Decades of laboratory research have shown that rapidly changing or moving stimuli presented in peripheral vision tends to ‘capture’ covert attention. We report naturalistic glance and driving behavior of a large sample of drivers who were exposed to two digital billboards on a segment of highway largely free from extraneous signage. Results show a significant shift in the number and length of glances toward the billboards and an increased percentage of time glancing off road in their presence. Findings were particularly evident at the time the billboards transitioned between advertisements. Since rapidly changing stimuli are difficult to ignore, the planned increase in episodically changing digital displays near the roadway may be argued to be a potential safety concern. The impact of digital billboards on driver safety and the need for continued research are discussed.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Neuroscience, Attention restoration theory


Green exercise research often reports psychological health outcomes without rigorously controlling exercise. This study examines effects of visual exercise environments on directed attention, perceived exertion and time to exhaustion, whilst measuring and controlling the exercise component. Participants completed three experimental conditions in a randomized counterbalanced order. Conditions varied by video content viewed (nature; built; control) during two consistently-ordered exercise bouts (Exercise 1: 60% VO2peakInt for 15-mins; Exercise 2: 85% VO2peakInt to voluntary exhaustion). In each condition, participants completed modified Backwards Digit Span tests (a measure of directed attention) pre- and post-Exercise 1. Energy expenditure, respiratory exchange ratio and perceived exertion were measured during both exercise bouts. Time to exhaustion in Exercise 2 was also recorded. There was a significant time by condition interaction for Backwards Digit Span scores (F2,22 = 6.267, p = 0.007). Scores significantly improved in the nature condition (p < 0.001) but did not in the built or control conditions. There were no significant differences between conditions for either perceived exertion or physiological measures during either Exercise 1 or Exercise 2, or for time to exhaustion in Exercise 2. This was the first study to demonstrate effects of controlled exercise conducted in different visual environments on post-exercise directed attention. Via psychological mechanisms alone, visual nature facilitates attention restoration during moderate-intensity exercise.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Measurement, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Control, Attention restoration theory


Devices using a Heads-Up-Display (HUD), such as Google Glass (GG), provide users with a wide range of informational content, often while that user is engaged in a concurrent task. It is unclear, however, how such information might interfere with attentional processes. Here, we evaluated how a secondary task load presented on GG affects selective attention mechanisms. Participants completed a visual search task for an oriented T target among L distractors (50 or 80 set size) on a computer screen. Our primary manipulation was the nature of a secondary task via the use (or non-use) of GG. More specifically, participants performed the search task while they either did not wear GG (control condition), wore GG with no information presented on it, or wore the GG with a word presented on it. Additionally, we also manipulated the instructions given to the participant regarding the relevance of the information presented on the GG (e.g., useful, irrelevant, or ignore). When words were presented on the GG, we tested for recognition memory with a surprise recognition task composed of 50% new and old words following the visual search task. We found an RT cost during visual search associated with simply wearing GG compared to when participants searched without wearing GG (~258ms) and when secondary information was presented as compared to wearing GG with no information presented (~225ms). We found no interaction of search set size and GG condition, nor was there and effect of GG condition on search accuracy. Recognition memory was significantly above chance in all instruction conditions; even when participants were instructed that information presented on the GG should be ignored, there was still evidence that the information was processed. Overall, our findings suggest that information presented on HUDs, such as GG, may induce performance costs on concurrent tasks requiring selective attention. Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Neuroscience, Information, Attention restoration theory, Visual search, Attention span


How we attend to visual images influences their subsequent affective evaluation, such that images we ignore are evaluated more negatively than those we actively attend (Raymond & Fenske, 2006). Here we ask whether this also applies to real objects, specifically those we must avoid (obstacles) and those we must grasp (targets), when reaching in three-dimensional space. To answer this question, we combined the attend-ignore factor of previous attention research with the obstacle-target factor that is relevant when reaching in personal space. Each trial in the experiment involved presenting different images of abstract art on two objects (iPods) resting upright on a tabletop. Participants were cued to reach and grasp one of the two objects based on the class of artwork being presented. Thus, the art presented on each trial could be classified as belonging to the grasp target, the grasp obstacle, or a neutral distractor (an object that did not impede limb movement). Following each successful grasp of the target object, an abstract art image was displayed on one of the two objects and participants rated its cheeriness-the affective evaluation dimension in most distractor devaluation research. The results indicated large grasp target enhancement effects. Namely, abstract art images appearing on the grasp target were rated more positively than the same art when it appeared on a distractor, on an obstacle, or was novel art that had not been previously displayed. This finding contrasts sharply with previous research on the emotional consequences of attention, which have been largely distractor devaluation effects. This also implies that the emotion-attention link is different during action tasks than in studies of covert attention. Specifically, it implies there are stronger positive emotional tags associated with attending and acting on an object than merely attending to it. Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Neuroscience, Object, Attention restoration theory


The primate Superior Colliculus (SC) plays a causal role in controlling spatial attention. Microstimulation of the SC improves detection performance at a specific spatial location. Inactivation of the SC causes both a spatially specific deficit for stimuli inside the affected area of the visual field, and an increase in distractability for stimuli outside the affected area. However, all these studies used motion stimuli. To determine the scope of the SC’s role in controlling spatial attention, we instead used color, a feature dimension that has only recently been appreciated as having importance in the SC. In separate sessions, we recorded SC neuronal activity or reversibly inactivated SC neurons with muscimol, while a monkey performed a demanding covert attention task utilizing dynamic color stimuli described previously (Herman & Krauzlis, 2014). The animal’s task was to respond to color changes in the “cued” stimulus by releasing a joystick and to ignore changes in a second, uncued “foil” stimulus. Color changes were physically isoluminant saturation increases, masked by luminance noise, and kept near the monkey’s detection threshold (80%). In most neurons (62/66) color changes evoked brisk firing rate increases, often exceeding that evoked by stimulus onsets (43/66). Also, change-related activity was greater when the animal released the joystick than when he maintained his hold, both for cued and foil changes. Complementing these neuronal data, we found that SC inactivation had a dramatic effect on the monkey’s task performance (6 sessions). When the cued stimulus was presented inside the affected area, hit rate dropped from an average of 68% to 26%; concurrently, the animal’s rate of erroneously responding to foil changes outside the affected area jumped from 4% to 26%. We conclude that the SC is likely necessary for covert spatial attention regardless of visual feature dimension. Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Attention, Attention restoration theory, Monkey, Visual search