Understanding Nature and Its Cognitive Benefits

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Many people have the intuition that interacting with natural environments benefits their psychological health. But what has research actually demonstrated about the benefits of nature experience and the potential mechanisms underlying those benefits? This article describes empirical research on the cognitive benefits of interacting with natural environments and several theories that have been proposed to explain these effects. We also propose future directions that may be useful in exploring the extent of nature’s effects on cognitive performance and some potential mediating factors. Specifically, exposure to a variety of natural stimuli (vs. urban stimuli) consistently improves working memory performance. One potential mechanism for this is the perception of low-level features of natural environments, such as edge density in the visual domain. Although low-level features have been shown to carry semantic information and influence behavior, additional studies are needed to indicate whether perceiving these features in isolation is necessary or sufficient for obtaining the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.