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Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
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KU research on benefits of spending time in nature extended through grant

Thu, 02/20/2014

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.



Without a Wounded Warrior scholarship, Timothy Hornik probably wouldn’t be at KU pursuing a doctoral degree in therapeutic sciences. And he definitely wouldn’t have led the Pledge of Allegiance during President Barak Obama’s visit to the university in January — a moment he will never forget. Hornik, a retired Army officer, lost his sight while serving as an air defense artillery platoon leader in Iraq. The Wounded Warrior Educational Initiative, launched at KU in 2008, provides financial support and specialized training to help injured veterans and their family members pursue advanced degrees. With his education, Hornik plans to counsel soldiers through trauma. “All of the opportunities and services I’ve received originated from the efforts of someone else paying it forward or back,” he says. “I simply hope to continue this cycle and change the lives of others.” Learn more about the Wounded Warrior Scholarship: http://bit.ly/1xhbaxy

Paying it forward AND giving back: A Wounded Warrior award gave this veteran new purpose. http://t.co/28pUix9jDc http://t.co/q8Q5YXoKOW


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