Evaluating visual and auditory contributions to the cognitive restoration effect



A. G. Emfield;M. B. Neider


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Abbreviated Journal Title

Front. Psychol.


cognitive restoration; Attention Restoration Theory; natural; environments; urban environments; immersion; mood; attention; FIELD-OF-VIEW; PSYCHOLOGICAL RESTORATION; ENVIRONMENTAL PREFERENCES; ATTENTIONAL NETWORKS; URBAN ENVIRONMENTS; STRESS RECOVERY; BENEFITS; CONSPICUITY; CHILDREN; SEARCH; Psychology, Multidisciplinary


It has been suggested that certain real-world environments can have a restorative effect on an individual, as expressed in changes in cognitive performance and mood. Much of this research builds on Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which suggests that environments that have certain characteristics induce cognitive restoration via variations in attentional demands. Specifically, natural environments that require little top-down processing have a positive effect on cognitive performance, while city-like environments show no effect. We characterized the cognitive restoration effect further by examining (1) whether natural visual stimuli, such as blue spaces, were more likely to provide a restorative effect over urban visual stimuli, (2) if increasing immersion with environment-related sound produces a similar or superior effect, (3) if this effect extends to other cognitive tasks, such as the functional field of view (FFOV), and (4) if we could better understand this effect by providing controls beyond previous works. We had 202 participants complete a cognitive task battery, consisting of a reverse digit span task, the attention network task, and the FFOV task prior to and immediately after a restoration period. In the restoration period, participants were assigned to one of seven conditions in which they listened to natural or urban sounds, watched images of natural or urban environments, or a combination of both. Additionally, some participants were in a control group with exposure to neither picture nor sound. While we found some indication of practice effects, there were no differential effects of restoration observed in any of our cognitive tasks, regardless of condition. We did, however, find evidence that our nature images and sounds were more relaxing than their urban counterparts. Overall, our findings suggest that acute exposure to relaxing pictorial and auditory stimulus is insufficient to induce improvements in cognitive performance.

Journal Title

Frontiers in Psychology



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