Watching Nature On TV & VR Boosts Your Wellbeing, According To New Study

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According to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers found that watching high-quality nature programmes on TV can help boost people’s moods and reduce negative feelings that result from boredom while alone indoors.

Conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter, a new study shows that experiencing nature through programmes on TV can increase people’s connection to nature and create positive emotions.

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

Nicky Yeo, Lead researcher on the study

Under laboratory conditions and supervision, 96 participants were first asked to watch a video in which an individual describes their regular day at an office supply company. This process induced the participants with feelings of boredom. Next, the participants were shown scenes of an underwater coral reef in three ways:

  • 2D video viewed on a high-definition TV screen
  • 360-degree VR, viewed via a head mounted display (HMD)
  • Interactive computer-generated VR (CG-VR), also viewed via a HMD and interacted with using a hand-held controller

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

Dr. Mathew White, Co-author of the study

The researchers noticed that all of the different viewing methods helped reduce negative emotions like sadness, as well as feelings of boredom. However, the interactive VR experience stood out as the group exposed to this method was filled with positive emotions such as happiness, along with an increased connection to nature.

Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Lead researcher on the study, Nicky Yeo told University of Exeter News that the findings can have important implications for populations facing extended periods at home especially during COVID-19 lockdowns. “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.”

The team has partnered with the BBC Natural History Unit to develop experimental conditions, featuring several scenes from the Blue Planet II series that also included unseen 360 footage.

These findings will eventually support initiatives that are hoping to bring the therapeutic potential of nature to people at home, for instance BBC Four’s recent Mindful Escapes series.

Co-author of the study Dr. Mathew White discussed 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.”

To watch some good documentaries about the planet, WaterBear Network, a new on-demand video streaming platform that’s entirely dedicated to nature is a good place to start.

Aside from watching nature documentaries and films, research and studies have shown that spending time in nature also helps reduce feelings of negativity and can be a form of therapy.


Lead image courtesy from Belle Co/Unsplash


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