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How does psychological restoration work in children? An exploratory study


Both place and activity influenced children’s perception of restorativeness in three different experimental conditions with varying degrees of naturalness

This study addressed three questions relating to psychological restoration in children: (1) Do children perceive the difference between the restorative value of a natural and an artificial environment? (2) Does the perceived restorativeness of Nature affect children’s performance on a directed attention test?, and (3) Do children feel connected to natural environments and, if so, to what extent?
This study is based, in part, on what Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests about psychological restoration in adults– that is, that cognitive performance benefits from engaging in activities or experiencing environments that elicit fascination and capture attention without mental effort on our part. One purpose of this study was to see if this hypothesis applies to children.
Forty eight children (age 9 – 11) from a primary school in Italy participated in this within-subjects study. They were assessed in three different settings with varying degrees of naturalness: a built environment (the classroom), a mixed environment with both built and natural elements (the playground), and a totally natural environment (an alpine wood). For each setting, children were engaged in a different type of activity: mindful practice in the classroom, free play on the playground, and a guided walk in the wood. The activity in each setting was 90 minutes in length.
Two self-report instruments, a performance task assessment, and a blood pressure monitor were used to collect data on how psychological restoration works in children. The self-report instruments consisted of a revised version of the Perceived Restorativeness Scale and the Connectedness to Nature Scale adapted for children. A tailored version of the Continuous Performance Test (CPT) was used for the performance task assessment. These measures were administered only once – after all three of the activities were completed. Physiological parameters (blood pressure and heart rate), however, were assessed after a ten-minute rest period following each of the activities. An M6Comfort Omron digital blood pressure monitor was used for this assessment. All the children were assessed at the same time with the measurements being taken by the children’s teachers.
An analysis of the data indicates that children’s connection to nature did not vary across the three experimental conditions (mindful silent practice in a built environment, free play in a mixed environment, and spending time in a completely natural environment), consistent with the theory that connectedness to nature is a trait, rather than dependent on context or situation. What did vary to a significant degree was the perceived restorativeness of the different conditions. Free play on the playground emerged as the least restorative condition, while a walk in the woods emerged as the most restorative. In addition, and consistent with the finding of perceived restoration, blood pressure and heart rate were found to be lower after mindful silence in the built environment and after a walk in the alpine wood, but not after play time on the playground.
This study also examined the effect of the three experimental conditions on cognitive performance. Children’s attentional function was best after the alpine woods walk, and poorest after free play on the playground. What the authors noted as “the most striking result of this study” was how children’s attentional performance was significantly affected not only by place but by the activity they were engaged in before the assessments were performed. The best attentional performance was associated with the alpine wood, the setting perceived as the most restorative. In terms of activity, mindful silence emerged as more restorative than free play. The authors conclude that children can discriminate between the restorative value of different setting, that psychological restoration works in children in a manner similar to adults, and that their findings support Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory.


Berto, R., Pasini, M., Barbiero, G., (2015). How does psychological restoration work in children? An exploratory study. Journal of Child and Adolescent Behavior, 3(3)


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