Attention Restoration Theory

Attention Restoration Theory & Focus

Ecopsychology and ART. No, we don’t mean the kind with brushes and paint. ART as in Attention Restoration Theory. As the focus on ecopsychology and wellbeing increases, we explore ART, to examine how reconnecting with the natural world can dial down our stress. What is Attention Restoration Theory and how can we use it to recover from mental fatigue?

Attention Restoration Theory Pioneers

Back in the 1970s ecopsychology pioneers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan recognised that modern day living was taking a toll on wellbeing. Consequently, way before the digital revolution, they could see that life in cities was causing cognitive overload, stress and exhaustion. For example, people were beginning to spend more time indoors as technology advanced but that meant less time in nature. As a result, stress increased. Fast forwards 50 years and multiply by a zillion. 

Focus Takes Effort (& lots of it)

In our fast paced lives, focusing takes effort. Often we’re bombarded with information from multiple sources. For example, watching TV while eating or working with tech when alerts pop up for instance. Our attention is pulled in many directions. We’re certainly more distracted than ever before. More importantly, there’s much talk of multitasking but it’s a myth. When we think we’re multi tasking we’re actually switch tasking, for instance, moving from one task to the next. Researchers have discovered that this negatively affects cognitive load. That is to say, it results in multiple mistakes along with increased stress.

Spending Time in Nature

Attention Restoration Theory
Attention Restoration Theory & Nature Connection

Pause. Take a moment and look at those waves. Lose yourself in them. How do you feel? Have you ever watched the ocean, silently observing the tide ebb and flow? Similarly, maybe you can remember a tough day and then the sight of a sunset, dissolved your feelings of stress? To this end, the Kaplans noticed that spending time in nature had a restorative and renewing effect on our minds and our bodies. However, the benefits of nature didn’t stop there. Certainly it was relaxing. More importantly, afterwards, it improved our capacity to concentrate.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART)

ART acknowledges something interesting. These interactions are deeply relaxing and regenerative, but they’re also doing something else. ART proposes that when we’re stressed and burning out, spending time in nature can help us to focus. In their book Experience of Nature Stephen and Rachel Kaplan provide the first research-based analysis of the vital psychological role that nature plays in our lives. 

A Restorative Environment

As a result of their research, the Kaplan’s found four elements that make an environment restorative.

  1. Being Away
  2. Soft Fascination
  3. Extent
  4. Compatibility


Importantly, their research outlines four cognitive states, necessary for restoration:

  1. Clearer head, or concentration
  2. Mental fatigue recovery
  3. Soft fascination, or interest
  4. Reflection and restoration

As a result, when these key components are present, nature has the ability to restore, renew and recharge us.

Discover more about ecopsychology by taking a look through our blogs. Want to learn more about ecopsychology and wellbeing? Explore our mindfulness in nature resources available on our mindful Rewilding courses . Come and say hello and discover how we can work together

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