Why is this study timely and needed?
Using digital tools to explore the psychology of nature-based experiences is not new; researchers have used photographs, video and audio to replicate contact with ‘real’ nature for several decades.
These studies have helped to examine the physical and psychological effects of contact with the natural world, and allowed scientists to build theories about how and why spending time in these environments can affect mental wellbeing.
Now, new breakthroughs in the field of virtual reality have provided an exciting opportunity to go further. Developments in 360 cameras, digital rendering, audio recording, head-mounted displays, and mobile applications allow us to immerse people in spaces and places like never before.
This opportunity to bring realistic nature-based experiences to those who cannot readily access them opens up new possibilities for therapeutic interventions.
But we currently know very little about whether this kind of approach can be used to boost wellbeing, and if so, how best to create, optimise and deliver it.
The relationships between nature and wellbeing are complicated. A person’s life experience, culture and environmental attitudes will all impact on the benefits they might gain from spending time in the natural world.
Therefore a project like Virtual Nature can only succeed by listening to people, involving them in the study design, and learning ‘what works’ from their opinions and circumstances.
Academics refer to this approach as ‘engaged’ or ‘participatory’ research and it is a crucial part of this project. The questions, methods and results we develop in this study will all be influenced by real-world experts—you!