LAWRENCE – University of Kansas researchers who have demonstrated cognitive benefits for individuals who immerse themselves in nature are launching a new project to explore whether such benefits could translate to the workplace. The project is made possible through a $65,000 grant from the Sunflower Foundation: Health Care for Kansans.
Improvement in creative reasoning is a benefit that has been identified in previous research by KU psychology professors Paul Atchley and Ruthann Atchley and University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. Their results have been published in leading academic and media outlets, including PLOS One, the Los Angeles Times and Backpacker magazine.
That research, however, was focused on individual results. The new project will broaden the scope and potential impact of findings by observing groups of employees. The team will explore whether creative reasoning improvements from exposure to nature could lead to better problem solving in a work team environment.
Paul Atchley said that while the cognitive benefits of nature-based settings may be easy to understand as a concept, employers may not as readily accept it as a worthwhile practice to adopt in their workplace. Without studies to show that time spent outside may be beneficial for employees, employers may be prone to view time spent in the office as more valuable.
“In addition to doing scientifically sound work, it is important that we try to understand and communicate these effects in ways that individuals and business leaders will find valuable,” he said.
The project will utilize meeting spaces and nature trails at the KU Field Station, overseen by the Kansas Biological Survey. The Sunflower Foundation also provided grant funding to the KU Field Station to extend its trail system. Both projects align with the Sunflower Foundation’s interest in projects that promote lifelong healthy behaviors, such as increased physical activity.
“We rely on science to help guide our grant-making efforts,” said Billie Hall, CEO and president of the Sunflower Foundation. “This project is an opportunity to learn more about the benefits of exercising outside, which has impact on individuals, communities and workplaces. As a foundation committed to a more walkable Kansas, this is exciting for us.”
Employers and organizations who are interested in partnering with the researchers are encouraged to contact Paul Atchley by email or 785-864-9803.
The Department of Psychology is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.