The effect of urban versus nature exposures on cognitive control and well-being

Toth, Eszter (2022). The effect of urban versus nature exposures on cognitive control and well-being. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis explores the effect of urban versus natural environments on 1) proactive and reactive cognitive control; 2) the influence of top-down and bottom-up processes on attention allocation towards emotional face stimuli; 3) behavioural adjustment; and 4) well-being. To do this, I utilized two types of experiments. In the first type, young adult participants were briefly exposed to urban versus natural environments then completed a task with face stimuli. In the second type, young adult participants provided their home postcode during childhood so that their childhood environments could be categorised based on various features, such as neighbourhood greenness or population size. Afterwards, they completed either a face attention task, the Go/No-go task or the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (21-items). To measure cognitive control, I was interested in the magnitude of the congruency sequence effect. I found that brief physical urban exposure promoted reactive control whereas physical nature exposure promoted proactive control. Neither brief artificial nor chronic childhood exposure to these environments affected cognitive control. The influence of top-down and bottom-up processes on attention allocation towards emotional face stimuli was measured by 1) the extent to which emotional face distractors interfered with task performance, as well as 2) participants brain responses (P1 event related potential component and theta oscillation) to emotional face stimuli that was measured via electroencephalography. These showed that brief artificial urban versus nature exposures resulted in greater influence of both bottom-up and top-down processes on attention allocation. Notably, this effect may be underpinned by exposure to faces within urban environments. In contrast with artificial exposures, brief physical and chronic childhood exposure to urban versus natural environment did not modulate the influence of either top-down or bottom-up processes. Moving on to behavioural adjustment, this was measured via the extent to which participants’ reaction times slowed on trials after erroneous versus correct responses. This revealed that young adults who were raised in greener neighbourhoods displayed greater behavioural adjustment, demonstrating that chronic childhood exposure to natural environments modulated behavioural adjustment. In contrast, neither population size nor air pollution levels of childhood environments affected behavioural adjustment. Finally, to measure well-being, participants rated the extent to which they experienced depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms. Somewhat confusingly, I found that young adults who were raised in areas with higher neighbourhood greenness, air pollution levels and population size reported marginally greater well-being, demonstrating that childhood exposure to both urban and natural environments affected well-being to some extent in young adulthood. Collectively, these results suggest that urban versus nature exposures modulate a range of cognitive processes as well as well-being beyond that typically investigated within the literature.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Psychology
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology


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