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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2021 Abstracts

Analyzing Stress Physiology in Response to Prolonged Periods in Nature

Presenter: Daniel Anderson, University of Utah, Psychology
Authors: Daniel Anderson, Emily Scott, and David Strayer
Faculty Advisor: Emily Scott, University of Utah, Psychology
Institution: University of Utah

Research suggests there can be drawbacks to overexposures to urban settings, which may deplete attentional resources. Notably, Stress Recovery Theory and Attention Restoration theory propose exposure to natural environments reduce stress and restore attention. While there are many studies supporting this taking place in lab simulated settings (VR, imagery, etc.), there is limited research on the benefits of prolonged exposures to natural settings. This study looks at heart rate variability and behavioral measures to determine if prolonged immersion in nature increases parasympathetic nervous system activity, promoting recovery of stress. 26 participants completed physiological and cognitive testing before, during, and after a 5-day nature trip. Physiological data was collected using Electrocardiography during a 10-minute resting baseline and during the cognitive task. The task consisted of a standard no-go 3 stimulus visual oddball task, where participants responded to frequent and infrequent stimuli while withholding a response for novel, distractor stimuli. We examined accuracy and reaction time measures from this task. We hypothesize that the prolonged exposure to nature will increase activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which will be reflected by an increase in Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia. This measure has been used widely throughout literature as a means of monitoring autonomic nervous system activity through the vagal tone. We expect increases in these measures of heart-rate variability to occur in both the resting data and the task-related data, as this would indicate recovery of stress and greater control over the stress response during attention regulation. We predict these measures will be positively correlated with accuracy and negatively correlated with reaction time on the task. This study provides additional data on how nature affects humans on a physiological level, which could help us better understand how nature impacts the individual at a time when individuals report spending more time inside.