Does strolling through nature, well, in this case, a city park, help alleviate symptoms of ADHD? So claim researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who tested kids after 20-minute walks in three different areas of town: a city park, a residential neighborhood, and an urban downtown. Seventeen kids aged 12 to 17 participated in what we geeky types call a "within-subject design" - meaning all the kids did all three walks though each walk occurred one week apart. That makes for good scientific rigor - cuts down on the noise, other factors that might have differed between the groups had different kids been placed in each of the three groups. So fortunately the researchers could attribute any differences between the groups on the Digit Span to the walking environment (and not to differences between the kids in each group).
You can probably guess which walk led to the best performance on the Digit Span Backwards Test (yes, the actual name! - repeating a short list numbers backwards). The park. Does that mean we should all rush our easily distracted youth out to the wilderness? Who doesn't love a breath or two of fresh air...in an earlier survey the researcher also found parents reported their ADHD kids seemed to improve after time outdoors.
Ahhh, but wait...
Then I noticed a curious detail in the abstract for the study published in a recent edition of The Journal of Attention Disorders. The park led to the best attention on the Digit Span. The greenest walk won. So we assume it's something about the greenery, the quiet, the lack of people and buildings that created better attention. Right? So which walk do you think came in second place? The residential neighborhood?
Wrong. The downtown walk. Why would the downtown walk, a presumably louder, less green environment engender less distractibility than the quieter streets with houses? Now, I haven't yet gotten to the read the actual study - so I don't know if the differences between the residential and urban 'hoods were significant - but from the effect sizes (quantities we research type love to have because we can compare them easily) I would guess they would be. And because this was a very small sample, a larger sample would most likely lead to significant differences. So I have to wonder what it was about the park that helped the kiddies, or conversely, what it was about the city that helped them more than the residential neighborhood. Can we blame it on a batallion of leaf blowers in the usually quiet streets?? This is the kind of result that makes me crazy - and I promise to get back after tracking down the article (that's not free, by the way). Wish me luck.