The research revealed that experiencing nature in virtual reality could have even larger benefits, boosting positive feelings, and increasing people’s connection to the natural world.
Under laboratory conditions, researchers from the University of Exeter first induced feelings of boredom in 96 participants by asking them to watch a video in which a person describes their work at an office supply company. They then experienced scenes of an underwater coral reef in three different ways; on TV. in a VR headset in 360-degree viewing, and in a VR headset using computer-generated interactive graphics.
The team found that all viewing methods minimized negative feelings such as sadness, as well as significantly reducing boredom. However, only the interactive virtual reality experience led to increases in positive feelings, such as happiness, and strengthened how connected people felt to nature.
Nicky Yeo, the lead researcher on the study, believes the findings could have important implications for populations facing extended periods at home. She said:
“Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people’s mood and combat boredom. With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of COVID-19 quarantines, this study suggests that nature programmes might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a ‘dose’ of digital nature.”Advertisement
The team worked with the BBC Natural History Unit to create their experimental conditions, which featured several scenes from the Blue Planet II series, including unseen 360-degree footage. Their findings support initiatives seeking to bring the therapeutic potential of nature to people at home, such as BBC Four’s recent Mindful Escapes series.
Dr. Mathew White, the co-author of the study, said:
“We’re particularly excited by the additional benefits immersive experiences of nature might provide. Virtual reality could help us to boost the wellbeing of people who can’t readily access the natural world, such as those in hospital or in long term care. But it might also help to encourage a deeper connection to nature in healthy populations, a mechanism which can foster more pro-environmental behaviours and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world.