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In a model for nature engagement and interaction, Attention Restoration Theory, originally written by Kaplan and Kaplan in 1989, suggested that nature is a restorative environment offering recovery from mental fatigue.

This mental fatigue is established as a result of the effort involved in inhibiting competing influences when attention is directed towards a task.

In other words, the modern world is a drain on our mental capacity, and being in nature offers us the restorative qualities we need to return to our capacities to cope with cognitive tasks and stress. Most people recognize this when they spend time in nature, it may well be what leaves most of us feeling refreshed after a walk in the woods or along the river.

Within the attention restoration theory Kaplan and Kaplan (and others who promulgated on their original ideas) identified 4 qualities that explained why nature could offer attention restoration. These are:

  • ­Being away, this is the sense of escape form a part of life that is ordinary present and not always preferred.
  • ­Extent, this is the property of an environment that provides the feeling of being ‘in a whole other world’ that is meaningful and structured.
  • ­Fascination, this is the ability for something to hold attention, without effort thus allowing directed attention to rest.
  • ­Compatibility – is the affinity of an individual with the environment or activity so that directed attention is not required in order to engage.

Ohly et al 2016 found multiple studies showing cognitive improvement post-time in nature.