Honors Program


Date of this Version

Spring 3-2018

Document Type



McLaughline, Lalah. An Analysis of the Relationship Between Spatial Working Memory and Exposure to Nature in Younger and Older Adults. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2018.


Copyright Lalah McLaughlin 2018


Exposure to nature has been shown to elicit several positive benefits in terms of stress reduction, overall health, and cognition, specifically attention. There are two types of attention. Directed or voluntary attention requires the conscious control of attention, whereas involuntary attention is captured by inherently pleasing stimuli. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) proposes that restorative environments have beneficial effects on cognition. In congruence with this theory, after completing a cognitively demanding task, an individual’s cognition and concentration may be rejuvenated through exposure to a natural setting. Spatial working memory (SWM) is a subcategory of working memory, in which spatial location information is being refreshed and maintained. In spatial recall tasks, biases arise. There are striking differences between young children and adults in terms of the direction these biases fall from a vertical symmetry midline axis.

This pilot study investigated the relationship between adults’ spatial working memory performance and previous nature experiences. Research has proposed that children are spending less time outdoors now than in previous generations. The research question proposed that adults who grew up in a more natural community, such as a rural environment, would exhibit stronger spatial working memory. Additionally, the relationship between nature experience during childhood and spatial working memory would be weaker in older adults due to the amount of time elapsed since childhood. Younger adults (N = 23) and older adults (N = 19) completed a spatial working memory task involving two target locations, a 20° target and a 40° target, followed by a nature questionnaire. Results revealed that in general, older adults exhibit less bias in the spatial working memory task than younger adults. Even though results indicated that one’s childhood community was related to memory of the target locations, there was some degree of interaction between childhood community and age group. The implications for this observation could be due to a myriad of factors that extend beyond the scope of this study. Therefore, the underlying cause of the age difference remains ambiguous.