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Watching nature content can give consumers a mental health boost

Whether it’s watching TV or through virtual reality, time experiencing nature has benefits

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Photo (c) Robert Daly - Getty Images
Recent studies have shown how spending time in nature can be beneficial for consumers’ mental and physical wellness, and now a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter found that those benefits can also be felt virtually. 

According to their findings, essentially any experience with nature can give consumers a mental health boost. Their study found that whether it’s watching a nature-related TV show or experiencing nature in a virtual reality (VR) setting, this kind of experience was found to promote mental wellness for consumers. 

“Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people’s mood and combat boredom,” said researcher Nicky Yeo. “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.” 

Spending time with nature

The researchers had nearly 100 participants involved in this two-part study. Because they were interested in understanding how a virtual experience with nature could affect the participants’ mood, they started by showing them an instructional video that was designed to make them feel bored and restless. The participants then watched scenes from a tropical coral reef in one of three methods: a VR headset with computer graphics, a VR headset with full video features, or on a TV. The researchers assessed the participants’ boredom, overall mood, and connectedness with nature both before and after the experience. 

The study revealed that consumers don’t need to go outside to feel connected to nature or to boost their mood. Findings suggested that having a virtual experience with nature can be beneficial to consumers’ well-being. While the researchers observed that the VR experience allowed the participants to feel more connected to nature than those who watched the scenes on a TV, all of the participants reported that they felt less bored and negative.

Though VR headsets aren’t readily available to all consumers, access to a TV is much easier. This study showed that something as simple as nature programming can have powerful effects for mental wellness. The researchers hope that these findings can benefit consumers from the comfort of their homes while more work is done to integrate VR experiences into health care. 

“We’re particularly excited by the additional benefits immersive experiences of nature might provide,” said researcher Dr. Matthew White. “Virtual reality could help us to boost the well-being of people who can’t readily access the natural world, such as those in the hospital or 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 behaviors and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world.” 

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