Can't get outside? A virtual nature fix can be nearly as effective at relieving lockdown depression

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(NEW YORK) — You’re probably tired of experts advising you to take a nature walk outside to relieve pandemic boredom, depression and stress.  But what if your nearest available nature is weeds sprouting from a sidewalk? 

No worries — just turn on your TV or computer.

A new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology set out to see if experiencing virtual nature — that is, via TV, computer or a VR headset — could afford some of the same benefits as experiencing actual nature in person.

The researchers first set a baseline of boredom by having test subjects watch the same intentionally dull video — in this case, a person describing their job at an office supply company.  Researchers then had subjects watch a video of an underwater coral reef, in one of three ways: in 2D on a high-def TV; as a 360-degree, passively-viewed virtual reality (VR) video viewed via a head-mounted display; and an interactive 350-degree VR video viewed via headset and using a hand-held interactive controller.

Results?  All three viewing modes resulted in what researchers described as “reductions in boredom and negative affect,” but the more interactive VR modes resulted in “significantly greater improvements in positive affect than TV, which were mediated by greater experienced presence and increases in nature connectedness.”

So bottom line, a virtual visit to nature is better than no visit at all, even if it’s just watching a show on Nat Geo.

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