Winter is coming and so are stricter quarantine measures. How do we cope with the cooped up blues when there’s little to do and nowhere to go with travel restrictions keeping United States citizens glued to their couch during the upcoming colder months?
Queuing up Planet Earth or an engaging nature documentary might be the answer according to this recent research coming out of the United Kingdom. A virtual daily dose of nature is shown to reduce feelings of boredom and depression associated with isolation.
The case study
A research team from the University of Exeter found some promising evidence that VR exposure to nature documentaries can significantly boost mood and curb boredom. Scientists studied a sample size of 96 participants to test this hypothesis. The group was shown a yawn-inducing instructional video about the inner-workings of an office supply company from a less-engaging member of the team. Once bored to tears, the research team showed the participants clips from the BBC’s Blue Planet II series after the instructional video.
Participants then experienced the wonders of the deep blue sea via virtual reality headsets with 360-degree vision. Finally, participants explored the coral reef with interactive features available with most virtual reality headsets these days.
What did the scientists find after exposing participants to the wonders of the barrier reef uncharted by most not versed in safe scuba diving techniques?
Nicky Yeo Ph.D., and lead researcher on the study, outlines the positive implications of experiencing nature from the safety of your own home during the quarantine. These findings were originally published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found in more detail here.
“Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people’s moods and combat boredom. With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of COVID-19 quarantines, this study suggests that nature programs might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a ‘dose’ of digital nature.”
Far-reaching benefits of virtually enjoying nature
This study spells great news for those of us with pre-existing conditions that isolation tends to aggravate.
This hypothesis “suggests humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.”
Head authors of this recent study fall back on this hypothesis to further drive home the importance and benefits enjoyed by playing outdoors whether virtually or in person.
“The Biophilia Hypothesis, for example, argues that humans evolved in close proximity with natural environments, and as such, have an innate need to affiliate with nature, which when satisfied, leads to positive feelings.”
Further research conducted by Roger S. Ulrich backs up the fact that taking an awe walk through hiking trails does in fact stimulate the nervous system’s parasympathetic response promoting feelings of happiness and relaxation.
“Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) proposes that encountering the kind of unthreatening natural scenery that supported our ancestor’s survival, triggers a rapid psycho-physiological response via parasympathetic activation, leading to decelerated arousal, a reduction in negative feelings and an increase in positive ones.”
When humans activate the parasympathetic response we tend to feel more relaxed, less anxious, and happier overall. Simple breathing exercises and meditation can bring this on this rest and relax response as well as close proximity to green spaces.
VR interactions with nature have the potential to boost environmentalism
VR simulations of nature excursions can also promote a better sense of interconnectedness between oneself and the world around them. This may promote more community-minded approaches to environmental activism in the future. Once we experience phenomena bigger than ourselves first hand we put our egos aside to focus on the communal aspect of belonging to a place bigger than ourselves and our minute anxieties to foster environments responsible for all of mankind’s survival.
Dr. Mathew White M.D., and co-author of the study, enthusiastically promote this incredible effect nature has on our psyche and community outreach potentiality.
“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 hospitals 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 behaviors and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world.”
Digital enhancement has improved human life vastly in the last couple of years. The next time you’re feeling bored and pent up on a rainy fall day just tune in to BBC’s Blue Planet series to wash those quarantine blues away. The narrator’s British accent is quite soothing and there’s science behind the benefit of your binge-watching so don’t feel guilty at all.