Nature walks can increase attention tasks?
Recently, Peter Aspinall and his associates had their participants walk through a green space, a shopping street, and a commercial district with some Emotiv EEG caps on. They found that there were benefits of walking through the green space as opposed to the busier areas, such as a decrease in frustration, arousal and engagement (most likely functions of beta and gamma activity) and an increase in meditation (most likely a function of alpha/theta activity).
A few years earlier, Marc Berman and his team found similar results when they asked can nature help replenish voluntary attention processes? Berman did find support for his hypothesis, in which his participants would perform better on attention tasks and also his researching team would be able to identify which tasks would have better results after a "walk in the park".
Attention Restorative Theory
This attention restorative theory (ART) is the idea that we will involuntarily look at "fascinating stimuli" in a modest fashion. Nature itself contains many fascinating features, and can contain these features in various different places and extents (e.g. your backyard versus Yosemite). These two studies recognize Stephen Kaplan's work, which outlines William James' thoughts on attention and expands them to the potentially restorative aspects of natural environments. Kaplan suggests that fascination is the key factor in nature's ability to restore, as it is effortless to pay attention to but also leaves the opportunity to dwell on other thoughts. The second part of ART is that when we involuntarily look at these fascinating stimuli, we are able to replenish, or restore, the resources normally used for directed (or voluntary) attention. This replenishing, or revitalizing, of attention resources can of course be tested by performance on attention-related tasks.
Both Berman and Aspinall found significance in their support of ART, which suggests that nature may contain some sort of restorative benefits for attention processes. But to what extent? Berman also conducted an experiment where he used pictures of nature versus pictures of cities and replicated the results from his nature walk versus downtown walk. Does this suggest that nature, as far disconnected as a photo of some scenery, is as effective as actually experiencing nature?
Just looking at nature photos increased cognitive ability?
The Berman experiment using pictures did suggest that the environment created (the room which participants did this study) was devoid of noises and scents. I would also go on to say it was devoid of the physical aspect of walking, as well as the potential random aspects of walking through a park and a downtown area. So, would a fascinating stimulus like something that sounds natural (a waterfall or a stream) or something that smells natural (the scent of pine or the smell when rain falls for the first time) produce the same effects in a controlled environment that something which looked natural (scenery of Nova Scotia was the stimulus for Berman's experiment) would produce? Is there a spectrum (or compounding effect) of restorative nature, where the more senses involved create more of a replenishing effect?
If a single stimulus could produce a fairly awesome effect (increase in attention performance), then what could also produce the same effect? I'd be interested to attach a pulsing vibration of some sort on a person's body, with the theory that we can induce theta or alpha frequencies via touch. Run them through the ANT and see if their executive functions increase. Test them against picture viewers and against people who experienced both. You could even throw an EEG on them and see if there is an increase in alpha or theta power, which would indirectly describe their more relaxed brain.