Exposure to ‘real’ nature can increase positive affect and decrease negative affect, but direct access is not always possible, e.g. for people in health/care settings who often experience chronic boredom. In these settings ‘virtual’ forms of nature may also have mood-related benefits (e.g. reducing boredom) but it has been difficult to separate effects of nature content from those of delivery mode.
The present laboratory-based study explored whether exposure to three different delivery modes of virtual nature could reduce negative affect (including boredom) and/or increase positive affect. Adult volunteer participants (n = 96) took part in a boredom induction task (to simulate the emotional state of many people in health/care settings) before being randomly assigned to view/interact with a virtual underwater coral reef in one of three experimental conditions: (a) 2D video viewed on a high-definition TV screen; (b) 3600 video VR (360-VR) viewed via a head mounted display (HMD); or (c) interactive computer-generated VR (CG-VR), also viewed via a HMD and interacted with using a hand-held controller.
Visual and auditory content was closely matched across conditions with help from the BBC’s Blue Planet II series team. Supporting predictions, virtual exposure to a coral reef reduced boredom and negative affect and increased positive affect and nature connectedness. Although reductions in boredom and negative affect were similar across all three conditions, CG-VR was associated with significantly greater improvements in positive affect than TV, which were mediated by greater experienced presence and increases in nature connectedness.
Results improve our understanding of the importance of virtual nature delivery mode and will inform studies in real care settings.