Publication in: Spring 2023 Issue

Perceived Cognitive Effort and Exposure to Natural Stimuli
Jackson Crawley
Faculty Mentor(s):
Mark Harvey
Abstract / Summary:
This study investigated the effects of exposure to aversive natural stimuli, such as spiders and snakes, on perceived cognitive effort and affect. Previous research has found that interaction with nature can produce benefits, such as the restoration of attention or reduction of stress, perhaps because some features of the natural environment may indicate the absence of threats, the availability of needed natural resources, or the overall positive health of an ecosystem. However, other features of the natural world may be threatening thereby producing negative effects. While much research focuses on the positive effects of interaction with nature, there is little research on the negative. This study hypothesized that threatening natural stimuli may impair thinking and produce negative affect. A within-subjects design was used in which each participant was exposed to three experimental conditions: aversive nature, attractive nature, and human made objects. Outcome measures were an anagram task to index perceived cognitive effort, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, and the Connectedness to Nature Scale to measure individual differences. Ninety-two UNCA psychology students participated. Preliminary data analysis shows that the aversive condition produced significant negative affect and greater perceived cognitive effort compared to the attractive and human-made conditions. The results will be described in the context of previous research on exposure to natural stimuli, suggesting that the understanding of the value of nature exposure should be tempered to include a more comprehensive understanding that recognizes that some nature elements elicit negative feelings and can even impair thinking.
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