Taking a stroll in the park can make us feel good. But, what about watching a movie about it? Although there is evidence that contact with nature improves our wellbeing, unfortunately not everyone can access the outdoors. Could virtual nature experiences be a solution?
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Surrey set out to test whether exposure to virtual nature could improve one’s mood and alleviate boredom. First, the participants (96 adult volunteers) performed a boredom-inducing task, watching a four minute video where a man talked in a monotone voice about his office work. Afterward, they were exposed to virtual nature by watching five minutes of a documentary about coral reefs on either a high-definition 2D television, a 360º virtual reality video on a headset, or an interactive computer-generated virtual reality experience similar to the video versions on a headset with hand-held controllers. The researchers assessed the participants' moods and feelings before and after their contacts with virtual nature.
All three types of virtual exposure to nature reduced negative feelings, had a positive effect in the mood and increased feelings of connectedness to nature. While all settings were equally good at reducing bad feelings, the interactive virtual reality inspired the greatest positive feelings.
The researchers point out, their results can be a first step to prepare for further analysis in “real” boring settings, such as hospitals or care homes. And, as many of us are facing lockdowns, we may keep in mind that nature documentaries can be a good companion — fancy virtual reality headset not required.