Attention Restoration Theory (ART) is the theory that people can learn to concentrate better (or restore their concentration abilities) by spending time in Nature or in a natural environment, or even by only looking at Nature scenery.
It’s thought that looking at or reflect about phenomena in a natural environment, such as clouds in the sky, leaves moving in the wind, a creek flowing, the mountains or a waterfall, calms one down and gives peace and energy, while allowing for effortless attention, which relaxes the need to act on the continuous, obligatory, rapidly changing stimulus-driven demands of everyday life. This then in its turn re-teaches us (or re-enables us) to again pay attention and concentrate in a normal and natural way.
In fact, the idea is that we’ve become increasingly numb in our artificial urban environments and have depleted our capacity for prolonged and discriminating attention and concentration because of involuntary overstimulation (noise, traffic, overpopulation, advertising, and whatnot), directed attention demands (such as in our jobs), and the subsequent enduring stress. As a result we’ve often lost the capacity of prioritizing relevant information, which increasingly pushes us into even more susceptibility for distraction and mental fatigue.
Nature then can provide us with a restorative environment, one that’s calm and relieves from mental fatigue and stress, allowing us to again gain and give qualitative attention to that-what-happens without the pressure of time or of rapidly sequenced artificial stimuli. Nature, through its inherent characteristics, gives us ways to calmly look, discern and connect, creating a harmonious, holistic experience.
As such, Attention Restoration Theory can become Attention Restoration Therapy, that is, a treatment that involves actively engaging into Nature Therapy in order to regain our mental health and peace of mind.
Scientific research on this topic has shown that an environment needs to have certain characteristics to be of restorative quality. It must be fascinating (generating awe and attracting our prolonged involuntary and relaxed attention), one must be away of one’s usual location (a distance that enables us to let go of everyday life demands), it should have options of extension (the interconnectedness of the environment, which is a typical property of Nature), and it needs to be compatible with us (meaning that the environment must appeal to us).
In a more down-to-earth manner we could say that changing to a different kind of environment or activity — one that boasts effortlessness and harmony as its main characteristics — can heal mental fatigue and support us to restoring our normal concentration and attention span.