Cultural connections

Humankind’s relationship with the natural world has shaped its evolution; we want to explore how we might harness this connection.

Previous research has shown that memory, experience and culture can play a large role in how restorative people find both natural environments and their corresponding soundscapes.

It looks like this is also true for virtual natural environments, with the pioneering work of Nicky Yeo suggesting that people’s experiences in the ‘real world’ affect their enjoyment in virtual reality.

Nicky’s work, along with our collaboration with the BBC and University of Bristol, has also highlighted the importance of a narrative in virtual nature experiences. For example, simply immersing someone in a static virtual environment doesn’t seem to have the same effect as giving them a purpose or a story to follow.

The practice of using written and spoken word to achieve therapeutic gains already has a grounding in theory and practice; by using books and stories, the field of ‘bibliotherapy’ has proven effective at treating mild psychological distress.

We want to delve deeper into these relationships, and explore how cultural interpretations of nature—such as poetry—might impact how effective a virtual natural environment is at boosting wellbeing.

Could there be additive effects of combining this technique with virtual nature to create ‘culturally enhanced’ experiences? To find out, we’ll be building some of these elements into our Forest 404 soundscape experiment.

Nothing like this has ever been tried before, and including this approach in a national-scale experiment provides an opportunity to test whether we see an effect which could then be explored in more detail.

Stay tuned for updates!

Alex Smalley