Natural Spaces, Affect, and ADHD Symptoms – Within-Person Associations in Children’s Daily Life

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Dokumentart: Dissertation
Date: 2020-09-23
Language: English
Faculty: 7 Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Psychologie
Advisor: Gawrilow, Caterina (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2020-07-22
DDC Classifikation: 150 - Psychology
Keywords: Kind , Naturerlebnis
License: Publishing license including print on demand
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Spending time in nature can have a positive impact on physical and mental health. With regard to the latter, restorative experiences in nature can for example consist of the enhancement of positive affect, as one aspect of emotional well-being, and the reduction of inattention, as one symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD symptoms (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity) are dimensionally spread between children and might fluctuate within each child. Importantly, while between-person comparisons suggest that ADHD symptoms are related to the experience of negative affect as well as to increased affect fluctuations, there is not much research investigating the co-variation of ADHD symptoms and affect occurring within a child and in the context of daily life. Assessing daily-life experiences can be implemented by using the methodological approach of ambulatory assessment. This approach enables a researcher to gain insights into the fluctuations of a child’s emotions and cognitions, such as affect and inattention, over a certain period of time and in the context of his or her daily life, such as natural spaces. Since more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, the association between the context of nature in children’s daily life and children’s affect or the ADHD symptom inattention seems to be of great relevance for daily-life research. Overall, the present dissertation focuses on two main research goals which are investigated in three empirical research foci. The first research goal is the investigation of fluctuations of affect and ADHD symptoms and how they are related over time in children’s daily life (Research Focus 1). Second, the restorative effect of children’s daily experiences of natural spaces on affect and on inattention, as an ADHD symptom, is examined (Research Focus 2). As an extension, this second overarching research goal is also reflected in the third empirical research focus. This empirical research focus is on the question of whether restorative experiences of natural spaces are moderated by a child’s overall association with nature (Research Focus 3). Thereby, the association with nature is operationalized as a child’s environmental attitude. Applying an ambulatory assessment design to these overarching research goals, the present dissertation extends former research in two ways. In the first place, the focus of the present research is on fluctuations of affect and ADHD symptoms that occur within individuals over short time periods in addition to the already well-investigated between-person differences. Also, an understanding of restorative experiences from natural spaces as they occur in children’s daily life enriches past research due to its focus on the context in real life instead of examining the effect of nature with experimental research designs. All Research Foci refer to the same study sample. Children (N = 55) of a community sample were asked about their affect and ADHD symptoms (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity) three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening) over the course of 18 consecutive study days. Moreover, the amount of time spent in natural spaces on a given day was assessed each evening. Background questionnaires from parents and children provided information about a child’s association with nature. Research Focus 1 aimed at the investigation of the within-person relationship – in addition to the already assumed between-person relationship – between negative affect (e.g., depressive) and ADHD symptoms. Focusing on the within-person relationship, it was hypothesized that on occasions when children experience a higher level of ADHD symptoms they also experience enhanced negative affect. In addition, the study examined whether children with increased ADHD symptoms report higher affect fluctuations, which can be regarded as an indicator for emotional impulsivity. The results from a multilevel model confirmed previous findings on the positive relationship between ADHD symptoms and negative affect on a between-person level. However, on a within-person level, negative affect and ADHD symptoms were not related. These findings indicate that children who in general experience more ADHD symptoms also show enhanced negative affect. However, on occasions when children reported a higher level of ADHD symptoms than usual, they did not report an increased negative affect. Moreover, the hypothesis that children with a higher trait level of ADHD symptoms experience more affect fluctuations could not be confirmed. Results are discussed with their implications for future research on intra-individual fluctuations and for practical work with children. Research Focus 2 is concerned with the restorative effect of the amount of time spent in natural spaces on affect and inattention as an ADHD symptom, thereby also focusing on within-person effects in addition to between-person effects. Multilevel models revealed a statistically significant between-person effect for affect, but not for inattention, which indicates that children who in general spent more time in natural spaces over the entire study period also reported enhanced positive affect, but not less inattention. Within-person effects for both outcome variables were not significant. However, significant random effects for both outcome variables indicate that children differ in their particular within-person relationship. Therefore, it was concluded that some children seemed to benefit from their time spent in natural spaces regarding their experience of affect and inattention whereas other children did not seem to benefit. The last research result led to the hypothesis that the assumed recovery after time spent in natural spaces could be moderated by a factor due to differences between the children that is described and analysed in Research Focus 3. The perceived association with nature (operationalized by the child’s environmental attitude) was assumed to moderate the within-person relationship between time spent in nature and positive effects for affective well-being and inattention in children. Correlational analyses revealed no significant results, indicating that children with a stronger environmental attitude do not benefit more from spending time in natural spaces than children with a weaker environmental attitude. Further individual characteristics that could account for the differential associations between time spent in nature and both affective well-being and inattention are discussed. Overall, the present dissertation shows that between-person effects do not necessarily transfer to within-person effects. This is important, particularly with regard to the history of psychological science, in which the focus often laid on differences that occur between people. Moreover, although most within-person effects were not statistically significant, the present dissertation enriches previous research by providing first insights into the within-person fluctuations of affect and ADHD symptoms (in particular, inattention) by using a comprehensive ambulatory assessment study with children. These results can inform further ambulatory assessment studies in children on feasibility, implementation, and sensitivity of assessments.

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