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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Toward a unified model of stress recovery and cognitive restoration in nature


There is abundant evidence for both cognitive and affective improvements stemming from spending time in nature; however, the mechanism underlying these effects are still under debate. Frameworks such as Attention Restoration Theory (ART; Kaplan 1995) and Stress Recovery Theory (SRT; Ulrich et al. 1991) have been helpful in understanding how restoration is achieved. Using the neurovisceral integration model (NIVM; Thayer and Lane 2000, 2002), we suggest that cognitive restoration and stress recovery co-occur and that they are bidirectional manifestations of activity in the vagus nerve, which links the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to the central nervous system (CNS). Future research should examine both PNS and CNS activity simultaneously to provide a better understanding of the changes in the body and brain associated with immersion in nature. This research program will provide the scientific evidence to help inform public policy related to human health, urban design, and environmental protection.

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