VIEWS OF NATURE AND SELF-DISCIPLINE: EVIDENCE FROM
INNER CITY CHILDREN
ANDREA FABER TAY L O R ,FRANCES E. KUO AND WILLIAM C. S ULLIVAN
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.
Children growing up in the inner city are at risk of academic underachievement, juvenile delinquency, teenage
pregnancy, and other important negative outcomes. Avoiding these outcomes requires self-discipline. Self-dis-
cipline, in turn, may draw on directed attention, a limited resource that can be renewed through contact with
nature. This study examined the relationship between near-home nature and three forms of self-discipline in
169 inner city girls and boys randomly assigned to 12 architecturally identical high-rise buildings with vary-
ing levels of nearby nature. Parent ratings of the naturalness of the view from home were used to predict
children’s performance on tests of concentration, impulse inhibition, and delay of grati¢cation. Regressions
indicated that, on average, the more natural a girl’s view from home, the better her performance at each of
these forms of self-discipline. For girls, view accounted for 20% of the variance in scores on the combined self-
discipline index. For boys, who typically spend less time playing in and around their homes, view from home
showed no relationship to performance on any measure. These ¢ndings suggest that, for girls, green space
immediately outside the home can help them lead more e¡ective, self-disciplined lives. For boys, perhaps more
distant green spaces are equally important. #2002 Elsevier Science Ltd
Children growing up in the inner city are at risk of
academic underachievement (Brooks-Gunn, 1986),
juvenile delinquency (Berrueta-Clement, 1984), teen-
age pregnancy (Furstenberg, 1976), and other impor-
tant negative outcomes, with profound
consequences for themselves, those around them,
and society. Outcomes such as these often re£ect
failures of self-regulation, or self-discipline (Baume-
ister et al., 1994). Could a feature of the physical
environment a¡ect inner city children’s capacity for
self-discipline, and as a consequence, play a role in
This paper explores whether children’s self-disci-
pline might be enhanced by contact with nature.
Previous research suggests that natural settings
and views can help renew the psychological re-
source used in deliberately directing attention. It
has been proposed that self-discipline draws on this
same resource (Kuo, 2000); if so, we would expect
self-discipline to decline when this resource is de-
pleted or fatigued, and we would expect self-disci-
pline to improve when this resource is renewed.
Thus, regular contact with natural settings and
views might be expected to enhance children’s capa-
city for self-discipline on a day-to-day basis.
To test this possibility, this study tested for links
between the view from home and three forms of self-
discipline in children. Speci¢cally, it examined
whether, in an inner city neighborhood, children
with ‘greener’ views from home were better able to
concentrate, inhibit initial impulses, and delay grat-
Three forms of self-discipline
Concentrating, inhibiting initial impulses, and de-
laying grati¢cation are each distinct and important
forms of self-discipline. They are distinct forms of
self-discipline in that each involves overriding dif-
ferent, unhelpful tendencies. And they are impor-
tant in that each seems likely to play a pivotal role
in the course of a young person’s life. More speci¢-
cally, each seems likely to play an important role in
negotiating the risks faced by inner city children:
Journal of Environmental Psycholog y (2002) 22, 49^63
0272- 4944/02/$-see front matter r2002 Elsevier Science Ltd
doi:10.1006/jevp.2001.0241, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on
academic underachievement, juvenile delinquency,
and teenage pregnancy.
Concentrating requires overcoming the tendency
for the mind to wander, and sustaining attentional
focus despite distractions, boredom, frustration, or
fatigue. As it involves directing one’s thoughts to
the topic at hand, concentration is the form of self-
discipline that most clearly draws on our capacity
to deliberately direct attention. The ability to con-
centrate is important because it enables an indivi-
dual to mentally ‘buckle down’ and stay on a task
long enough to make progress and be e¡ective. It
also seems to enable an individual to complete
tasks more quickly. In children, chronic or acute
de¢cits in concentration could result in valuable
time spent in less-than-e¡ective ways. A child too
mentally fatigued to concentrate might spend count-
less hours in front of books and assignments, yet
learn very little due to their inability to focus on
the task at hand. Indeed, inattentiveness is a signif-
icant predictor of academic underachievement (e.g.
Mantzicopoulos, 1995; Rowe, 1992).
Inhibiting initial impulses
the tendency to jump to conclusions or to act on im-
pulse. It involves overriding one’s initial response to
a problem or situation, in order to consider alterna-
tives or consider the potential costs and bene¢ts of
a course of action. The ability to inhibit initial im-
pulses is important because it gives rise to more
prudent and cautious choices, and consequently,
more prudent and cautious actions. Chronic or
acute de¢cits in a child’s ability to inhibit impulses
can have serious, negative long-term repercussions.
For example, a child too mentally fatigued to inhibit
impulses is more likely to give in to repeated o¡ers
of a lit cigarette or other dangerous substance. A
diminished capacity to inhibit impulses could also
cause a child to accept a dare to jump from one bal-
cony to the next, or to snatch an elderly woman’s
purse. Consistent with this, impulsivity is consis-
tently linked with risky behavior (Donohew et al.,
2000; McCoul, 2000), aggression and violence
(e.g. Hynan & Grush, 1986; Markovitz, 1995), and
delinquency (Lynam, 2000; Rigby, 1989; White,
Delaying grati¢cation requires overcoming impa-
tience and the tendency to favor short-term rewards
over long-term goals. It involves internalized stan-
dards and morals. The ability to delay grati¢cation
is important because reaching future goals often re-
quires postponing immediate rewards. It assists the
individual in persisting at goal-oriented behaviors
for the good of their future. Even a temporary de¢-
cit in the ability to delay grati¢cation can have ma-
jor repercussions. For example, a temporary
inability to delay grati¢cation might lead a young
couple to give in to immediate desires and engage
in unprotected sex, rather than wait until they are
better prepared. Consistent with this, poor ability
to delay grati¢cation is a signi¢cant predictor of un-
planned pregnancy (Donoghue, 1993; Sha¡er et al.,
In sum, concentration, impulse inhibition, and de-
lay of grati¢cation may play pivotal roles in the
course of a young person’s life. How might these vi-
tal forms of self-discipline be enhanced by the pre-
sence of natural elements immediately outside the
home? We suggest that each of these forms of self-
discipline draws on a resource which can be re-
newed by contact with nature Fthe capacity for
deliberate or self-directed attention. In the next sec-
tion, we review the literature on how natural set-
tings and views can renew directed attention; we
then consider why self-discipline might draw on this
How natural settings and views restore directed
Both theory and evidence suggest that the resource
underlying our capacity to direct attention can be
renewed by contact with nature. Attention Restora-
tion Theory (Kaplan, 1995; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989)
builds on William James’ description of attention to
provide an explanation for why natural settings and
views might be expected to renew this resource.
James observed that certain elements in the envir-
onment are e¡ortlessly engaging, and draw on what
he called involuntary attention: ‘strange things,
moving things, wild animals, bright things...’
(James, 1962, p. 231). For those stimuli and situa-
tions that do not e¡ortlessly engage us, he proposed,
we draw on a voluntary form of attention, or what S.
Kaplan (1995) calls directed attention.
The mechanism underlying directed attention ap-
pears to behave like a mental muscle. With pro-
longed or intense use, the capacity to deliberately
direct attention becomes fatigued and performance
declines (Cohen & Spacapan, 1978; Glosser & Good-
glass, 1990). In Attention Restoration Theory,
S. Kaplan proposed that stimuli that draw primar-
ily on involuntary attention give directed attention
a chance to rest. Further, he noted that natural set-
tings and views appear to draw on involuntary at-
tention; as a consequence, contact with nature
should assist in recovery from the fatigue of direc-
50 A. F. Taylor et al.
Evidence in Adults. A number of studies in adult
populations support Attention Restoration Theory.
Several studies have shown that nature draws upon
involuntary attention (e.g. Kaplan, 1973, 1983;
Kaplan & Talbot, 1983, Ulrich, 1981). In addition, a
number of other studies have shown that exposure
to natural environments can be e¡ective in restor-
ing directed attention from fatigue (Canin, 1991,
Cimprich, 1990, Hartig et al., 1991; R. Kaplan, 2001;
Kuo, 20 01; Lohr et al., 1996; Miles et al., 1998; Ovitt,
1996, Tennessen & Cimprich, 1995).
Of the previous empirical studies linking nature
and directed attention, three are particularly rele-
vant to the study presented here. These studies fo-
cus on residential nature and residential views of
nature. In one study, residents randomly assigned
to relatively ‘green’ high-rise apartment buildings
scored signi¢cantly higher on an objective measure
of attention than did residents assigned to relatively
‘barren’ buildings (Kuo, 2001). In another study, uni-
versity students with ‘all natural’ or ‘mostly natural’
views from their dormitory room windows scored
signi¢cantly higher on two objective measures of di-
rected attention than did residents with ‘mostly
built’ or ‘all built’ views (Tennessen & Cimprich,
1995). And in a third study, residents of low-rise
apartment buildings with window views of natural
elements or settings rated themselves as function-
ing better on several indices thought to be
related to attention restoration (Kaplan, 2001).
Thus, there is some reason to think that residential
views of nature might prove restorative in this
Evidence in children. Numerous studies have
linked directed attention to nature and near-home
nature in adults; very little research has been con-
ducted with children. Although Attention Restora-
tion Theory does not exclude children and it has
been suggested nature might support directed at-
tention in children (Trancik & Evans, 1995), only
two empirical studies have examined this possibi-
lity. Wells (2000) examined children who moved from
poor quality housing to better quality housing in
better neighborhoods. Among these children, those
whose move involved the greatest increase in nature
had the highest rated levels of attentional function-
ing post-move. Another study provides three addi-
tional pieces of evidence about the link between
nature and directed attention in children. That
study revealed that exposure to nature through
green activity settings was related to better atten-
tional functioning (reduced attention de¢cit symp-
toms) in a population of children with Attention
De¢cit Disorder (Faber Taylor et al., 2001). In that
study, parents rated a variety of leisure activities
with respect to whether those activities left their
child’s attention de¢cit symptoms better than usual,
worse than usual, or the same as usual: results indi-
cated that children function better than usual after
activities in green settings. Moreover, ratings were
higher for those activities conducted in green set-
tings than for those conducted in built outdoor or
indoor settings. In addition, the greener a child’s
usual play setting, the less severe their attention
de¢cit symptoms were rated in general. And most
relevant to the current study, several measures of
residential greenness were signi¢cantly and nega-
tively linked to overall severity of symptoms Fbut
only for girls and not for boys. Multiple potential
confounds were evaluated; none could explain the
relationships between green settings and better at-
In sum, not only do theory and evidence suggest
that nature supports directed attention in adults,
but there is some evidence that it does so in chil-
dren as well. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest
that near-home nature and residential views of nat-
ure can help renew directed attention.
Does self-discipline draw on directed attention?
Might self-discipline draw on directed attention,
and hence, be renewed by contact with nature?
More than one investigator has proposed that the
capacity for self-discipline is a limited but renew-
able resource (Kuo, 2000; Muraven & Baumeister,
2000). Perhaps it is no coincidence that both what
personality psychologists call ‘self-control strength’
(Muraven & Baumeister, 2000) and what environ-
mental psychologists call ‘directed attention’
(Kaplan, 1995) are subject to the same patterns of
decline and restoration Fdecline with overuse
and renewal with rest. Kuo (2000) has proposed that
the mental mechanism that underlies self-discipline
and the mental mechanism that underlies directed
attention are one and the same.
Although directed attention has been operationa-
lized primarily in terms of e¡ective cognitive per-
formance (e.g. maintaining focus or paying
attention, resisting distractions, planning, decision
making, remembering things), it is clear from
Kaplan’s description that the mechanism he pro-
poses may be involved in much more (Kaplan &
Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). In essence, Kaplan
proposes a general control mechanism for directing
any of a variety of di¡erent forms of mental activity,
including thoughts, images, sensations, and
Nature and Self Discipline 51
impulses. Thus, the mechanism for directing atten-
tion may be involved in the inhibition of any
strong-but-unhelpful mental activity in favor of any
weak-but-helpful mental activity.
Each of the three forms of self-discipline exam-
ined here could plausibly draw on this proposed me-
chanism. Concentration involves both inhibiting
distractions and other task-irrelevant thoughts, and
supporting on-task thoughts. Similarly, inhibition of
impulses may involve inhibiting initial impulses,
blocking out the stimuli that give rise to those im-
pulses, and supporting the consideration of alterna-
tives. And delay of grati¢cation may involve
inhibiting impulses, inhibiting unhelpful thoughts
and sensations that fan one’s desire for immediate
grati¢cation (e.g. warm chocolate cake), and sup-
porting thoughts about long term goals (e.g. weight
Consistent with this conception, a number of stu-
dies and reviews have linked voluntary or controlled
aspects of attention to forms of self-discipline and
self-regulation. Mischel and colleagues have shown
that children’s ability to direct attention away from
immediate rewards is pivotal in their ability to de-
lay grati¢cation (Mischel et al., 1972), and that ado-
lescents’ attentiveness and ability to concentrate is
predicted by their ability to delay grati¢cation as
pre-schoolers (Shoda et al., 1990). Two studies have
independently linked aspects of attention to more
disciplined ways of dealing with anger or con£ict
(Eisenberg et al., 1994; Kuo & Sullivan, 2001b). In
factor analyses of questionnaire data, Rothbart
et al. (2001) have found a broad e¡ortful control fac-
tor, in which attentional focusing clusters with inhi-
bitory control. Posner & Rothbart (2000) review
literature suggesting that high-level attentional net-
works provide the neural basis for self-regulation.
And ¢nally, in their review of over 500 books and
articles on self-regulation failure, Baumeister et al.
(1994) conclude that loss of control over attention is
a key factor in self-regulation failure.
If nature renews directed attention in children, and
if directed attention is indeed involved in self-disci-
pline, as we suggest, then children’s self-discipline
should be strengthened by contact with nature. This
study examined whether near-home nature is re-
lated to three forms of self-discipline in both girls
and boys. Speci¢cally, we asked
KDo residential views of nature enhance
KDo residential views of nature enhance
children’s inhibition of initial impulses? and
KDo residential views of nature enhance
children’s delay of grati¢cation?
This study breaks new ground in two respects.
First, previous research has linked concentration
to nature empirically, but only in adults with nor-
mal attentional functioning and in children with
compromised attentional functioning. This study is
the ¢rst to examine the relationship between nature
and concentration in a sample of children with nor-
mal attentional functioning. And second, although
nature and concentration have been linked in some
populations, neither impulse inhibition nor delay of
grati¢cation have been linked to nature in any po-
pulation. The ¢ndings of two studies (Kuo &
Sullivan, 2001b; Kuo, 2001) are consistent with a
link between nature and self-discipline, but neither
of these studies directly examined impulse inhibi-
tion or delay of grati¢cation.
To examine the relationship between residential
views of nature and concentration, impulse inhibi-
tion, and delay of grati¢cation in children, we con-
ducted one-on-one tests and interviews with a
sample of inner city girls and boys and their
mothers. Objective performance measures were used
to assess children’s concentration, inhibition of initi-
al impulses, and delay of grati¢cation. Mothers’ rat-
ings were used to assess the naturalness of views
Site and design
The site was Robert Taylor Homes, a large public
housing development in Chicago, Illinois, USA. At
the time of this study, Robert Taylor Homes (RTH)
comprised 28 16-story buildings. It had over 12,000
o⁄cial residents, of whom 31% were children be-
tween 5 and 14 years old (CHA, 1995). Almost all of
the heads of household (99?7%) were African-Ameri-
can and most (75%) received Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (CHA, 1995).
The physical characteristics of RTH help make it
an optimal site for studying the e¡ects of near-home
nature. When the development was built in the
1960s, trees and grass were planted in the common
spaces next to every building. Over the years, for
reasons of reducing maintenance and dust, grass
in most of the spaces was replaced with pavement,
causing many of the trees to die and subsequently
be removed. This attrition has left some buildings
52 A. F. Taylor et al.
barren and others with pockets of green. While the
amount of nearby nature varies from building to
building, the buildings themselves are nearly identi-
cal in architecture, layout, size, and number of resi-
dential units. Thus, many would-be confounds are
held constant at RTH, allowing for clean compari-
sons of the e¡ects of near-home nature.
The social characteristics of RTH also help make
it an optimal site for studying the e¡ects of near-
home nature. The housing assignment practices of
Chicago Housing Authority result in de facto ran-
dom assignment of residents to buildings, and resi-
dents are not involved in landscaping decisions or
maintenance. Previous research at this site with a
di¡erent sample of residents found no systematic re-
lationships between levels of vegetation outside
apartment buildings and residents’ age, education,
marital status, work status, income, Aid to Families
with Dependent Children status, number of children
at home, length of residence, or numerous other fac-
tors (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001a).
Participants and procedures
To boost rapport between the participants and in-
terviewers, we hired and trained residents of RTH
as interviewers. The four interviewers were Afri-
can-American women between 30 and 45 years old.
Each had achieved at least a high school diploma.
The interviewers received 40 hours of training in in-
terviewing and administrating objective perfor-
mance measures from our sta¡ and the National
Opinion Research Center.
In order to minimize distractions to interview
participants during the interview, we also hired
and trained residents to serve as child-care provi-
ders. Child care providers accompanied the inter-
viewers to the interviews and kept any children in
the apartment who were not being interviewed safe
and entertained. All child care providers were at
least 18 years old and were completing or had com-
pleted high school.
Twelve apartment buildings with varying
amounts of vegetation were sampled; we excluded
buildings adjacent to parks, police stations or other
relatively unique features. Within the selected build-
ings, sampling was limited to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
£oors because those £oors provide residents maxi-
mal views of the trees and grass outside their build-
ing; there are no residences on the ground £oor.
To recruit participants, £yers were posted and in-
terviewers canvassed door-to-door. Interviewers did
not canvas or interview in the building in which
they lived, and they were instructed not to inter-
view anyone with whom they were acquainted. Par-
ent-child pairs were invited to participate in a
University of Illinois study about ‘the physical envir-
onment of the neighborhood and how it a¡ects
mothers and children’. Any 7^12 year old child and
their mother or primary caregiver was eligible to
participate, so long as they had been residents of
RTH for at least a year. Potential participants were
told that they could refuse to answer any question,
and could stop the interview at any time. Adults re-
ceived $10 and children received a small gift at the
completion of the interview.
Of the eligible adult^child pairs approached, 169
of 174 agreed to participate Fa 97% response rate.
Ninety one of the child participants were boys; 78
were girls. Both the boys’ and girls’ mean ages were
9?6 years old (ranges 7?7^11?7 and 7?7to12?2 years
old, respectively). All participants were African-
Interviews and testing were conducted in partici-
pants’ apartments at the kitchen table. Adult inter-
views and testing typically lasted a little more
than an hour. Child interviews and testing typically
lasted 45 minutes.
We measured near-home nature and three types of
self-discipline: concentration, inhibition of initial
impulses, and delay of grati¢cation.
Near-home nature. Near-home nature was assessed
by asking the adult participants to rate the views
from their apartment windows. Ratings in response
to two items were combined: ‘How much of the view
from your window is of nature (trees, plants,
water)?’ and ‘How much of your view from your win-
dow is man-made (buildings, street, pavement)?’ (re-
verse-scored). Each item was rated on a ¢ve-point
scale, from 0 ‘not at all’ to 4 ‘very much’. Figure 1
shows barren and green areas immediately outside
RTH apartment buildings.
Concentration. Concentration was assessed using
four tasks. These tasks have previously been used
as measures of attention or concentration: Symbol
Digit Modalities Test (Cimprich, 1992, Lezak, 1983;
Smith, 1968), Digit Span Backwards (Cimprich
1992; Wechsler, 1955), Alphabet Backwards
(Cimprich, 1992), and Necker Cube Pattern Control
(Cimprich, 1990; Schwartz, 1994; Tennessen &
Cimprich, 1995). Phenomenologically, each of these
tasks is characterized by the e¡ortful use of atten-
tion or paying attention.
Nature and Self Discipline 53
In Symbol Digit Modalities (SDM), the partici-
pant substitutes numbers for nine geometric sym-
bols, including three mirror image pairs, as quickly
as possible (Smith, 1973). Scores on SDM were the
number of correct substitutions in a 90-s period.
One participant’s score was more than 2 S.D. higher
than the next highest score; this outlier was ex-
cluded from further analysis.
In Digit Span Backwards (DSB), the participant
listens to a sequence of numbers two to eight digits
long and then repeats the sequence aloud in reverse
order (Wechsler, 1955). Scores on DSB were the long-
est number of digits repeated correctly before two
consecutive failed trials.
In Alphabet Backwards (ABK), the participant
recites the alphabet backwards beginning with a
speci¢ed letter (e.g. the letter u) (Cimprich, 1992).
In this study, three trials were given; scores were
the average number of letters recited in correct (re-
verse) sequence divided by the average time spent
reciting them (i.e. the average speed with which
the participant could recite the alphabet back-
In Necker Cube Pattern Control (NCPC), the par-
ticipant attempts to mentally ‘hold on to’ one inter-
pretation of an ambiguous stimulus (Tennessen &
Cimprich, 1995). First, the participant stares at a
three-dimensional line drawing of a cube for 30 s,
signaling each time the front and back faces ap-
pears to reverse. Then, the participant tries to men-
tally ‘hold the cube still’ or inhibit it from reversing
for 30 s, signaling each time the faces reverse. Scor-
ing for this measure was the percent reduction in
the number of reversals from the ¢rst task Flet-
ting the cube reverse freely Fto the second task
Fholding the cube still. Scores were based on per-
formance of the two tasks after a practice trial.
Scores on SDM, DSB, ABK, and NCPC were stan-
dardized and averaged to create a summary index of
concentration. Z-scores were used because the four
tasks were scored on very di¡erent scales.
Inhibition of initial impulses. Inhibition of initial
impulses was assessed by combining scores on three
established measures of impulsivity or impulse inhi-
bition: Matching Familiar Figures Test (e.g. Welsh et
al., 1991; Brown & Quay, 1977; Kagan, 1966), Stroop
Color-Word Test (Boucugnani & Jones, 1989; Davies
et al., 1984; Dyer, 1973), and Category Matching
(Melnyk & Das, 1992). Each of these tasks tends to
evoke an initial response that is incorrect or very
likely to be incorrect. In each of these tasks, good
performance requires avoiding the initial incorrect
response in order to discern the correct response.
In Matching Familiar Figures (MFF), the partici-
pant is presented with a target ¢gure and a set of
six alternatives; the task is to select the single alter-
native that exactly matches the target ¢gure
(Kagan, 1966). Because all the alternatives all look
the same at ¢rst glance, participants must be care-
ful in evaluating them. For each trial, the number of
erroneous choices a participant makes before select-
ing the correct alternative is recorded. In this study,
a participant’s score on the measure was the total
number of errors over 12 trials.MFF has been found
to be a reliable measure: reliability for total number
of errors ranges from 0?62 (Block et al., 1974) to 0?78
(Cairns & Cammock, 1978). Matching Familiar
Figures has also been found to be a valid measure
of impulsivity (Brown & Quay, 1977; although cf.
Block et al., 1974).
In the Stroop Color-Word Test (Stroop), the parti-
cipant is given a sheet of paper with 50 color names
presented in rows (Dodrill, 1978). Each color name is
printed in incongruent ink colors; e.g. the word red
might be printed in green ink. The participant is
¢rst asked to read each of the words on the page
aloud, and then asked to name the ink color of each
FIGURE 1. Views of near-home nature vary from apartment to apartment at Robert Taylor Homes.
54 A. F. Taylor et al.
word on the page. The challenge of this task is to
avoid the initial impulse to read the words rather
than name the ink colors. In this study, a partici-
pant’s score was the number of ink colors named
correctly on ¢rst attempt.
In Category Matching (CM), the participant is
presented with a sheet containing 84 pairs of
icons (Schwartz, 1994; adapted from Melnyk &
Das, 1992). The participant evaluates pairs of
icons, attempting to circle only those pairs in which
the two icons belong to the same conceptual cate-
gory. Twenty-one of the pairs are target pairs, while
the remaining 63 are distractor pairs. The challenge
of this task is in resisting the impulse to circle
pairs in which the icons are similar in form but
not in conceptual category. A participant’s score
was the number of pairs evaluated in 30 s less any
We created a summary index of inhibition of initi-
al impulses by averaging the z-scores of MFF
(reverse-scored), Stroop, and CM.
Delay of grati¢cation. A version of Rodriguez et al.,
(1989) task was used to assess children’s capacity to
delay grati¢cation. In this task, the challenge is to
resist an immediate, smaller reward in favor of a
delayed but larger reward. The participant is ¢rst
asked which of two kinds of candy they prefer. Then,
they are shown a very large and a very small bag of
their preferred candy, and told that if they can wait
long enough, they can have the larger bag; other-
wise, they will receive the smaller bag. The test ad-
ministrator then instructs the child to wait quietly
with their eyes closed and leaves the room, taking
the candy with her (cf. Rodriguez et al., 1989). Scores
on this task were the total time waited, with a max-
imum score of 15 min.
Results are presented in four parts. We begin by
presenting preliminary analyses suggesting that
the relationship between near-home nature and
self-discipline should be examined separately by
gender. We then examine relationships between
near-home nature and self-discipline for girls and
boys. Finally, we address the potential role of age
di¡erences in the relationship between nature and
Preliminary analyses: should girls and boys be
Previous research has hinted at gender di¡erences
in the e¡ects of near-home nature on children
(Faber Taylor et al., 2001). To determine whether the
e¡ects of near-home nature on self-discipline would
best be analysed separately for girls versus boys, we
conducted a number of preliminary analyses.
First, we used independent t-tests to examine gen-
der di¡erences in self-discipline. Did the girls and
boys in this study di¡er in their performance on
the three forms of self-discipline? As Table 1 shows,
there are gender di¡erences on each of the three
forms of self-discipline tested, with girls outper-
forming boys on two forms and boys outperforming
girls on the third. Girls’ scores are signi¢cantly
higher on concentration and marginally signi¢-
cantly higher on impulse inhibition (p=0?08); boys’
scores are signi¢cantly higher on delay of grati¢ca-
These ¢ndings suggest that it would be prudent
to take gender into account in testing for links be-
tween nature and self-discipline. To do so, we con-
ducted 2 2 factorial ANOVAs examining the
Means, standard deviations, and mean comparisions between girls and boys on measures of self-discipline
Means Standard Deviations
Boys** Girls Boys tp
Concentrating*0?15 0?12 0?58 0?52 3?24 o0?01
0?09 0?09 0?69 0?62 1?79 0?08
Delay of grati¢cation
358 454 309 325 1?95 0?05
0?03 0?02 0?53 0?48 0?65 ns
*Concentration summary=average of z-scores on four constituent measures
Inhibition of impulses summary=average of z-scores on 3 constituent measures
Delay of grati¢cation scores=total time waited in seconds
Self-discipline summary=average of three z-scores: concentration summary, inhibition summary, and delay of grati¢ca-
Nature and Self Discipline 55
e¡ects of gender and nature on self-discipline. In
particular, we were interested in whether any ef-
fects of nature might be moderated by gender. In-
deed, consistent with previous research, gender by
nature interactions emerged for each of the three
forms of self-discipline. Findings indicated that girls
di¡ered from boys signi¢cantly in the e¡ect of near-
home nature on concentration, F(1,165) = 5?7,
po0?05, and delay of grati¢cation, F(1, 165) = 5.4,
po0?05. Girls di¡ered from boys marginally signi¢-
cantly in the e¡ect of nature on impulse inhibition,
F(1,165) = 3?6, p=0?06.
Accordingly, we examined the relationships
between near-home nature and each of the three
forms of self-discipline separately for girls and for
Near-home nature and self-discipline in girls
Concentration. If near-home nature enhances this
form of self-discipline in girls, we might expect girls
with greener views to perform better, overall, at
Symbol Digit Modalities, Alphabet Backwards,
Necker Cube Pattern Control, and Digit Span Back-
wards. We used a simple OLS regression to examine
the relationship between parent-rated naturalness
of apartment view and a summary index of these
four measures of concentration.
Do girls with greener views perform better at
tests of concentration? Yes. On average, the greener
a girl’s view from home, the better she concentrates.
As Figure 2 shows, there is a strong positive linear
relationship between naturalness of apartment view
and girls’ performance on the summary index of con-
centration, F(1,76) = 10?9, po0?01, and each of the
constituent measures echo this pattern. For each
scale point di¡erence in rated greenness of view
(for example, from 0 ‘not at all’ to 1 ‘a little’), perfor-
mance increases by roughly a quarter of a standard
deviation, beta = 0?233. Greenness of view explains
approximately one-eighth of the variance in concen-
tration scores, R-squared= 0?126.
Inhibition of initial impulses. If near-home nature
enhances this form of self-discipline in girls, we
might expect girls with greener views from home
to perform better, overall, at Matching Familiar
Figures Test, Stroop Color-Word Test, and Category
Matching. We used a simple OLS regression to ex-
amine the relationship between naturalness of
apartment view and a summary index combining
these three measures of impulse inhibition.
Do girls with greener views perform better at
tests of impulse inhibition? Yes. On average, the
greener a girl’s view from home, the more e¡ective
she is at inhibiting impulses. As Figure 3 shows,
there is a positive relationship between naturalness
of view and girls’ performance on the summary in-
dex of these three measures; and again, the consti-
tuent measures echo this pattern. Naturalness of
apartment view signi¢cantly and positively predicts
impulse inhibition, F(1, 76) = 3?8, p=0?05. Greenness
of view explains roughly 5% of the variance in
impulse inhibition scores, R-squared= 0?048, with a
beta of 0?172 .
Delay of grati¢cation. If near-home nature enhances
this form of self-discipline in girls, we might
expect girls with greener views from home to per-
form better on the Mischel delay of grati¢cation
Are girls with greener views more able to resist
the temptation of an immediate-but-smaller reward?
Naturalness of apartment view
0 1 234−1.5
0 1 234
0 1 234−1.5
0 1 234
FIGURE 2. OLS regression of naturalness of view on the summary measure of girls’ concentration (left) and its four constituent mea-
sures. All scores are standardized.
56 A. F. Taylor et al.
Yes. On average, the greener a girl’s view from
home, the longer she is able to delay grati¢cation.
As Figure 4 shows, there is a strong positive rela-
tionship between naturalness of view and perfor-
mance on this task. Naturalness of apartment view
signi¢cantly and positively predicts delay of grati¢-
cation, F(1, 76) = 12?7, po0?001. For each point di¡er-
ence in rated greenness of view (for example, from 0
‘not at all’ to 1 ‘a little’), performance increases by
almost half of a standard deviation, beta = 0?417.
Greenness of view explains roughly one-seventh of
the variance in impulse inhibition scores, R-
squared = 0?143 .
Combined self-discipline measure. To further test the
relationship between near-home nature and girls’
self-discipline, we created a single index combining
scores on the three forms of self-discipline. Do girls
with greener views perform better, overall, on these
three forms of self-discipline? Yes. As Figure 5
shows, view from home strongly and positively
predicts girls’ scores on this combined measure,
F(1, 76) = 19?4, po0?0001. On average, the greener a
girl’s view from home, the better she scores overall
on di¡erent forms of self-discipline; for each point
di¡erence in greenness of view, scores increase by
roughly a quarter of a standard deviation,
beta = 0?274. Greenness of view explains roughly
one-¢fth of the variance in self-discipline scores,
Near-home nature and self-discipline in boys
Table 2 summarizes the ¢ndings for the relationship
between near-home nature and self-discipline by
0 1 234
Naturalness of apartment view
0 1 234
0 1 234
0 1 234
FIGURE 3. OLS regression of naturalness of view on the summary measure of girls’ impulse inhibition (left) and its three constituent
measures. All scores are standardized.
−1.5 01 2 34
Naturalness of apartment view
Delay of gratification
FIGURE 4. OLS regression of naturalness of view on girls’ delay of
grati¢cation. Delay of grati¢cation scores are standardized.
Naturalness of apartment view
FIGURE 5. OLS regression of naturalness of view on the summary
measure of girls’ self-discipline. Self-discipline scores are standar-
Nature and Self Discipline 57
gender. As a comparison between the left and right
halves of the table shows, the ¢ndings for boys stand
in startling contrast to the ¢ndings for girls.
Whereas girls show consistent and often strong
links between near-home nature and various forms
of self-discipline, boys show only the barest hint of
such a link. Beta coe⁄cients for boys hover around
zero for concentration, delay of grati¢cation, and
the combined self-discipline measure. For impulse
inhibition, boys’ scores show a slight tendency to in-
crease with naturalness of the view from home,
beta = 0?116, but this relationship is not signi¢cant,
Age, near-home nature, and self-discipline
To address the potential role of age in this study, we
conducted 2 2 factorial ANOVAs (age nature)
for concentration, impulse inhibition, and delay of
grati¢cation. Girls’ scores and boys’ scores were ana-
lysed separately. Findings for girls showed, not sur-
prisingly, a main e¡ect for nature view for each of
the three forms of self-discipline. Girls’ concentra-
tion showed a main e¡ect of nature view, F(1,
74) = 17?3, po0?0001, as did girls’ impulse inhibition,
F(1,74) = 4?9, po0?05 and girls’ delay of grati¢cation,
F(1,74) = 8?6, po0?01. There was no signi¢cant main
e¡ect for age, nor was there a signi¢cant interac-
tion between age and nature for any of the three
forms of self-discipline.
Findings for boys showed, again, no main e¡ect
for nature view for any of the three forms of self-dis-
cipline. There was a hint of a main e¡ect of age on
concentration, F(1,74)=2?8, p=0?10, but there were no
other signi¢cant e¡ects for age on other forms of
self-discipline, and no signi¢cant interactions be-
tween age and nature for any of the measures.
These results indicate that the basic ¢ndings of
the study do not change when age is taken into ac-
count: for girls, near-home nature is consistently
linked to self-discipline; for boys, near-home nature
is not linked to self-discipline.
This study tested for possible links between near-
home nature and children’s self-discipline, more spe-
ci¢cally their capacities for concentration, impulse
inhibition, and delay of grati¢cation. Because preli-
minary analyses indicated gender di¡erences F
and, more importantly, interactions between gender
and nature Ffor each of these three forms of self-
discipline, we examined the relationship between
nature and self-discipline separately for girls and
For girls, views of near-home nature were system-
atically related to each of these three forms of self-
discipline. Girls’ performance on each of the follow-
ing measures was signi¢cantly and positively
related to nature: a summary measure of concentra-
tion (based on Symbol Digit Modalities, Alphabet
Backwards, Necker Cube Pattern Control, and Digit
Span Backwards); a summary measure of impulse
inhibition (based on Matching Familiar Figures,
Stroop Color-Word Test, and Category Matching);
Mischel’s delay of grati¢cation measure; and an in-
dex combining the three forms of self-discipline. Dif-
ferences in girls’ near-home nature explained 20% of
the variance in overall self-discipline scores.
Findings for boys stood in striking contrast to
those for girls. Whereas girls showed signi¢cant, po-
sitive relationships between near-home nature and
each of the outcome measures, boys showed no sig-
ni¢cant relationships between near-home nature
and any of the outcomes. What might account for
these gender di¡erences?
One possibility seems promising at ¢rst, but be-
comes less plausible on further inspection ^ that
nature restores directed attention in girls but not
boys. First, there is no a priori theoretical reason
to expect these e¡ects to be limited to girls. Atten-
tion Restoration Theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989;
Kaplan, 1995) would suggest that nature supports
directed attention in any individual with an intact
attentional system. And consistent with this, the
empirical work with adults suggests that the
OLS regression summaries for naturalness of apartment view on measures of self-discipline for girls and boys.
Girls (78) Boys (91)
beta Fp R
Concentrating 0?13 0?23 10?90?001 0?01 0?07 1?2ns
Inhibiting impulses 0?05 0?17 3?80?05 0?01 0?12 2?30?13
Delay of grati¢cation 0?14 0?42 12?7o0?001 0?00 0?03 0?6ns
Self discipline 0?20 0?27 19?4o0?0001 0?01 0?05 0?7ns
58 A. F. Taylor et al.
nature-directed attention relationship is true for
both males and females (Canin, 1991; Cimprich,
1990; Hartig et al., 1991; Lohr et al., 1996; Miles et
al., 1998; Ovitt, 1996; Tennessen & Cimprich, 1995).
It is di⁄cult to imagine why nature would a¡ect di-
rected attention in women, men, and girls, but not
Another possible explanation for the lack of rela-
tionship between near-home nature and self-disci-
pline in boys seems more promising. That is,
perhaps boys are a¡ected by contact with nature in
just the way that girls are, but boys have relatively
less contact than girls with the nature immediately
outside their homes. Studies that have geographi-
cally mapped children’s play have found that boys ty-
pically play farther from home than girls (Hart,
1979; Sobel, 1993); for reviews see Moore & Young,
(1978), Wohlwill and Heft (1987). Perhaps boys are
una¡ected by near-home nature simply because they
spend time elsewhere. Consistent with this, ¢ndings
from a previous study indicated that boys’ atten-
tional functioning was not related to the level of
nature immediately around their home, but was re-
lated to the level of nature in their usual play space
(Faber Taylor et al., 2001). Future research should ex-
amine the relationship between levels of nature in
boys’ most typical play spaces and their self-disci-
The ¢ndings in boys notwithstanding, the overall
pattern of ¢ndings in this study strongly suggests a
link between near-home nature and concentration,
impulse inhibition, and delay of grati¢cation in
To what extent do the links between near-home nat-
ure and these forms of self-discipline re£ect a cau-
sal relationship between nature and self-discipline?
While de¢nitively showing a cause and e¡ect rela-
tionship requires a true experimental design, we
can begin to address some possible alternative inter-
One possible alternative interpretation for the
current ¢ndings might be that self-discipline is
linked to near-home nature, but not because nature
enhances self-discipline. That is, perhaps some form
of self-selection is operating: perhaps more e¡ective,
more self-disciplined parents ¢nd ways to be as-
signed to greener apartments, or they ¢nd ways to
create greener surroundings, or the Chicago Hous-
ing Authority assigns ‘better’ prospective tenants to
greener buildings. Chicago Housing Authority poli-
cies work against each of these possibilities. Apart-
ment assignment policies result in de facto random
assignment of residents with respect to levels of
nearby nature at RTH. Furthermore, on-going land-
scape maintenance at RTH is handled by a small
landscaping crew; residents are not involved in
maintenance and funds are inadequate to ful¢ll spe-
cial requests from residents. Thus it seems unlikely
that any of these forms of self-selection are taking
place. Moreover, it is not clear why, if ‘better’ par-
ents self-select into, or create, or are assigned to
greener apartments, their superior qualities would
be re£ected only in their daughters.
Another possible interpretation might be that
more self-disciplined children actually have the
same levels of near-home nature as their less self-
disciplined counterparts, and the link between self-
discipline and high greenness ratings is an artifact.
For example, perhaps more self-disciplined, more ef-
fective parents tend to have better lives and be in
more positive moods than their less e¡ective coun-
terparts, and these positive moods lead them to be
more agreeable, thus leading them to endorse items
more highly ^ including their greenness ratings.
Consistent with this, previous research has found
links between mood and suggestibility (Tata & Gud-
jonsson, 1990). However, two considerations render
this possibility implausible. First, the measure of
naturalness of view in this study was composed of
two items, one of which was reverse-scored. To the
extent that positive moods induced residents of
greener buildings to endorse all items more highly,
the in£ation in the reverse-scored item should bal-
ance the in£ation of the positively scored item.
And second, again, it is not clear how this explana-
tion could account for the mothers of girls, but not
boys, giving higher greenness ratings.
A third possible alternative interpretation might
involve some form of experimenter demand. Might
the interviewers have somehow in£uenced mothers
with high-performing children to give greener
ratings? Alternatively, might they have in£uenced
children from greener buildings to score higher?
Although these possibilities cannot be ruled out en-
tirely, neither seems likely. The test administrators
did not know the hypothesis of the study and thus
would not know which mothers or children to in£u-
ence, or in what direction to in£uence them. And
yet again, it is not clear how this interpretation
could account for the lack of relationship between
nature and self-discipline for boys.
In sum, the links between nature and self-disci-
pline found here do not appear to be simple arti-
facts of self-selection, systematic biases in
assignment of participants to conditions, mood-
Nature and Self Discipline 59
elevated nature ratings, or experimenter demand.
Nonetheless, a causal relationship between nature
and enhanced self-discipline Feven for girls Fre-
mains to be substantiated.
Contributions to the literature
By documenting a systematic, positive link between
near-home nature and three forms of self-discipline
in girls, this work contributes to the research on the
bene¢ts of nature in three ways.
First, the results underscore the potential impor-
tance of views of nature. Previous research has
shown that a variety of positive outcomes are asso-
ciated with views of nature in adults in a variety of
settings. In residential settings, views of nature
have been linked to residential satisfaction, en-
hanced well-being, more e¡ective patterns of coping,
and greater day-to-day e¡ectiveness (Kaplan, 1985,
2001; Kuo, 2001; Tennessen & Cimprich, 1995) re-
spectively. In workplaces, views of nature have been
linked to job satisfaction and well-being (Kaplan,
1993); in prisons, to decreased demand for health
care services (Moore, 1981); and in hospitals, to
faster recovery from surgery (Ulrich, 1984). The
¢ndings here add to a growing body of evidence sug-
gesting that views of nature are no mere amenity.
Second, this work contributes to our understand-
ing of the bene¢ts of nature for children. Speci¢-
cally, the ¢ndings from this study combine with the
¢ndings from a previous study to suggest that atten-
tional restoration may be an important and univer-
sal bene¢t of nature for children. The current study
links nature and superior attentional functioning in
a sample of extremely low-income, attentionally nor-
mal African American children. The previous study
linked nature and better attentional functioning in
a primarily middle and upper-income, predomi-
nately European American sample of children with
Attention De¢cit Disorder (Faber Taylor et al., 2001).
Together, the two sets of ¢ndings suggest the possi-
bility of a nature-attention link that generalizes
across socioeconomic status, race, and attentional
status, as well as di¡erent levels of residential
greenness Ffrom the most barren of public hous-
ing grounds to the lushest of backyards in wealthy
Perhaps the most important contribution of this
work is to identify two new bene¢ts of nature. Pre-
vious research on a nature-directed attention rela-
tionship has focused primarily on cognitive
outcomes, especially the capacity to pay attention
or concentrate. Although previous ¢ndings linking
nature and reduced aggression are certainly consis-
tent with the hypothesis that nature enhances self-
discipline (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001b), to our knowl-
edge, this is the ¢rst study to systematically docu-
ment a link between nature and less cognitive
forms of self-discipline, speci¢cally impulse inhibi-
tion and delay of grati¢cation. Failure to inhibit im-
pulses can have both immediate consequences and
important long-term implications for an individual;
similarly, a pattern of failure in the delay of grati¢-
cation may substantially alter the course of an indi-
vidual’s life and their chances of success in a variety
of domains. For example, previous research has indi-
cated that children’s ability to delay grati¢cation
predicts their academic achievement, social compe-
tency, and ability to cope with frustration and
stress in adolescence (Mischel et al., 1988). If near-
home nature can provide a daily, easily accessible
means of supporting impulse inhibition and delay
of grati¢cation in a setting where individuals are
likely to be chronically mentally fatigued (Kuo,
1992), the implications for individuals, families, and
society may be enormous.
This study underscores the potential importance
of views of nature, extends previous research on at-
tentional restoration in children to a very di¡erent
population and setting, and introduces two poten-
tial new bene¢ts of nature: enhanced impulse inhi-
bition and delay of grati¢cation. The ¢ndings have a
number of implications for practice.
Implications for practice
These ¢ndings help reinforce the importance of in-
corporating trees and grass in spaces for children.
One implication of this research concerns the de-
sign of public housing developments. As a large pro-
portion of urban public housing residents are
children (in Chicago family housing in 1995, for ex-
ample, roughly 60% of residents were 19 years old
or younger; roughly 50% were 14 or younger, CHA,
1995), these ¢ndings argue for the potential impor-
tance of incorporating trees and grass around
public housing apartment buildings. Moreover,
these ¢ndings suggest that designers of public
housing should consider more than just ground-level
views of common spaces when placing trees and
grass; it may be helpful to place trees and grass
strategically within view from the surrounding
apartments. Along the same lines, the ¢ndings
here suggest that, in suburban areas and on the ur-
ban-rural fringe, the practice of constructing tree-
less residential developments may have important
unintended costs. Previous work has suggested that
the urban forest may be a vital part of children’s
60 A. F. Taylor et al.
living environments (Faber Taylor et al., 2001; Faber
Taylor et al., 1998); the work here reinforces that
Another implication of this research concerns the
design of schoolyards. These ¢ndings raise the possi-
bility that incorporating trees and grass in school-
yards could play an important role in the
classroom. Perhaps after spending breaks in green
schoolyards, children return to their classrooms bet-
ter prepared to pay attention, to suppress disruptive
impulses, and to wait patiently for future breaks.
Again, strategic placement may be important here.
It may be that an occasional long glance out a class-
room window helps support a child’s capacity for
self-discipline throughout the school day. Perhaps
greater bene¢ts from a given investment in land-
scaping can be obtained by placing vegetation to
maximize views of trees and grass through class-
We close by noting the implications of this study
for helping inner city children negotiate the many
risks of urban poverty. The ¢ndings here suggest
that the barrenness of inner city neighborhoods
may contribute to lower levels of self-discipline
and, potentially, to higher rates of negative out-
comes in inner city children. In this study, the
greener a girl’s view from home, the better her per-
formance on measures of concentration, inhibition
of impulses, and delay of grati¢cation. These
three forms of self-discipline may play key roles in
the likelihood of such negative outcomes as aca-
demic underachievement, juvenile delinquency, and
teenage pregnancy. Perhaps when housing man-
agers and city o⁄cials decide to cut budgets for
landscaping in inner city areas, they deprive chil-
dren of more than just an attractive view. Neglect-
ing landscaping may deprive inner city children of
a much needed resource for self-discipline ^ for the
psychological capacities that lead to a brighter fu-
This work was funded through a grant from the National
Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, grant
#NA-95 - 0333 USDA, and by the Cooperative State Re-
search, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture under project #65-370NRES. The
data presented here were collected as part of the Growing
Hope archive, a multi-study research e¡ort examining the
e¡ects of the physical environment on the functioning of
mothers and children living in urban public housing. This
research was conducted in partial ful¢llment of the re-
quirements for a doctoral degree in Natural Resources
and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign. We are grateful for the work done by
Dr. Angela Wiley in hiring, training, and supervising in-
terviewers and child care providers, and coordinating
and supervising the data collection. We thank the inter-
viewers, child care providers, and the residents of Robert
Taylor Homes for their participation, and Chicago Hous-
ing Authority for their assistance in the data collection
for this research. We are also grateful to Dr. Stephen
Kaplan for his helpful suggestions regarding terminology.
Correspondence concerning this article should be
addressed to Andrea Faber Taylor, Human Environ-
ment Research Laboratory, University of Illinois, 1103 S.
Dorner Dr., Urbana, IL 61801, U.S.A. E-mail: afabrtay@
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