ADD / ADHD: Where the country is the remedy

ADHD is a funny diagnosis. There is a lot of agreement on the symptoms, as used in, for example, the DSM-IV and ICD-10 diagnostic criteria. The causes of the condition, however, are not a matter of agreement. Wikipedia has a good overview of the competing theories.

Whether you agree with the use of stimulant medications for ADD or not – which the science says are safe – people with ADD/ADHD often come up with their own coping mechanisms in addition to, or instead of, drugs.

Recent research offers another option for the attention challenged; one that is entirely non-pharmaceutical.

The paper, “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature” by Marc Bergman et al. looks at the evidence for something called Attention Restoration Theory.

The idea is that, in an urban environment, one’s attention is grabbed in sudden and dramatic ways and the mind must remain vigilant, for example to avoid being hit by a car. In natural settings, while one’s attention may be drawn to things like sunsets or birds, such distractions are not overly taxing to the brain. The result is that cognitive function, especially the ability to focus, is restored more by being in nature than in an urban environment.

To quote:

Interacting with environments rich with inherently fascinating stimuli (e.g., sunsets) invoke involuntary attention modestly, allowing directed-attention mechanisms a chance to replenish. That is, the requirement for directed attention in such environments is minimized, and attention is typically captured in a bottom-up fashion by features of the environment itself.

So, the logic is that, after an interaction with natural environments, one is able to perform better on tasks that depend on directed-attention abilities.

Unlike natural environments, urban environments contain bottom-up stimulation (e.g., car horns) that captures attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention to overcome that stimulation (e.g., avoiding traffic, ignoring advertising, etc.), making urban environments less restorative.

Natural settings allow the directed-attention mechanisms a chance to replenish, while urban environments require the use of directed attention mechanisms.

The country is the remedy for a short attention span. This one has to at least be worth a try.


The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature. Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan. Psychological Science, December 2008.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 12th, 2008 at 2:56 am and is filed under ADD/ADHD, country remedies, health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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