The Role of Cognition on the Effects of Greenspace on Isolation and Loneliness
Approved Research ID: 96927
Approval date: March 2nd 2023
Greenspace exposure has been linked to positive health benefits including decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, stress and depression as well as improved cognitive function. One explanation for this association is the attention restoration theory (ART) proposed by Kaplan in the late eighties. ART proposes that spending time in or looking at greenspace, compared to time spent in urban areas, can decrease attention fatigue and enable us to recover our attentional capacities. This theory has been supported by several studies demonstrating that individuals perform better on attention tasks after being exposed to greenspace relative to those who were not. Although past work provides insight into the relationship between greenspace and attention, this work has relied on relatively small samples over short periods of time and little work has examined the nature of these effects longitudinally and with large, population-based studies.
In addition to effects on cognitive function, exposure to greenspace has also been associated with a reduction in loneliness and isolation. Two possible mechanisms have been previously proposed: (i) social-greenspace provides an opportunity for social interactions and (ii) non-social-the restorative benefits of greenspace (e.g. improved cognition) act as a mediator to increased social interactions. A handful of studies have aimed to further investigate the relationship between greenspace and isolation and loneliness. A longitudinal study that followed participants over four years found that a lower cumulative incidence of loneliness was observed among people with more greenspace within 1600 m of their home. In addition, another longitudinal study using real-time measures of greenspace and loneliness via GPS coordinates and ecological momentary assessment data found a positive association between lower levels of loneliness and contact with nature. Although these studies provide evidence to support the social mechanism behind greenspace and isolation and loneliness, they don't address the potential non-social mechanism, specifically the role of cognition.
We aim to use the U.K biobank data to further investigate the relationship between greenspace, cognition, and isolation and loneliness. Specifically, we aim to explore the following research questions:
- Is there an association between greenspace and isolation and loneliness? Is this relationship moderated by type of greenspace?
- Is there an association between greenspace and cognition in the areas of memory, executive function, and processing speed? Are these relationships moderated by type of greenspace?
- Is the association between greenspace and isolation and loneliness mediated by cognition?