Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
Children spend less time in nature than ever before and there is concern that this negatively impacts children’s cognitive (mental) abilities, particularly their ability to direct their attention. Theories such as the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggest that contact with nature may replenish endogenous attention (directed, voluntary attention). There is a lack of research on how contact with nature is associated with attention in children. The aim of this study is to evaluate if children who are exposed to natural environments during a 30 minute reflective walk would be better at endogenous attention.
Who can participate?
Children aged eight to 15 years old who are able to complete a 30 minute walk.
What does the study involve?
Prior to treatment, participants in both groups complete the Combined Attention Systems Task (CAST), a series of game-based tasks on a computer to measure attention. Participants are allocated to one of two groups. Those in the first week complete a 30 minute walk through a busy downtown neighbourhood. Those in the second group complete a 30-40 minute walk through a relatively pristine urban forest. After the walk, participants complete the CAST again.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
There are no direct benefits with participating however participants may benefit from 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity which is known to promote healthy development in children and adolescents. Participants are at risk of boredom, fatigue, and frustration. These risks are reduced by providing breaks to participants during testing or at any time at the request of the participant. Participants are allowed to remove themselves from the study at any time.
Where is the study run from?
This study is run by Dalhousie University (Canada) and takes place in an urban or forested environment.
When is the study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
July 2012 to June 2014
Who is funding the study?
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Canada)
Who is the main contact?
Dr Shannon Johnson
Dose-dependent effects of virtual environments on attention
Children who were exposed to natural environments during a 30-minute reflective walk would demonstrate specific improvements in endogenous attention.
Dalhousie University Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Board, 21/08/2012
Interventional single-centre study
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Non randomised study
Patient information sheet
Not available in web format. Please use contact details to request a participant information sheet.
Exogenous and endogenous attention
Participants are assigned to one of two study conditions, either the urban walk or the nature walk. Participants blindly assigned themselves to study condition as they are informed that there were two possible locations to which they could be assigned and then where asked to select a participation date, following which the testing location prescheduled for that date was revealed.
Condition 1 (Urban Walk): Participants engage in a guided walk of a typical urban environment for 30 minutes (around 1.25 miles).
Condition 2 (Natural Walk): Participants engage in a guided walk of a typical urban forested-park environment for 40 minutes (around 1.25 miles)
Participants fill out a demographic and history questionnaire as well as the connectedness to nature scale questionnaire in advance of exposure to either condition. The CAST (Combined Attention Systems Task) is administered to all participants before and after exposure to either condition.
There is no further follow-up to this study.
Primary outcome measure
Endogenous and Exogenous attention are measured using the Combined Attention Systems Task (CAST) at baseline and immediately post-treatment.
Secondary outcome measures
1. Intelligence quotient (IQ) is measured using the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI) at baseline
2. Association with nature is measured using Connectedness to nature scale (CNS) at baseline
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Reason abandoned (if study stopped)
Participant inclusion criteria
1. Aged between 8-15 years
2. IQ: >=80
3. Normal or corrected-to-normal vision
4. No history of psychiatric/psychological diagnoses
5. No history of severe head injury
6. No significant neurological disorders affecting the central nervous system
Target number of participants
Total final enrolment
Participant exclusion criteria
1. Inability to walk for 30 minutes
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience 1355 Oxford Road
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
1355 Oxford Street
PO Box 15000
+01 902 494 3417
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada, SSHRC
Funding Body Type
Funding Body Subtype
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
A manuscript has already been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed high-impact scientific journal as of May 2017.
IPD sharing statement:
The (de-identified) datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are/will be available upon request from Dr. Shannon Johnson (email@example.com)
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Available on request
Basic results (scientific)
2019 results in: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31866892 (added 24/12/2019)