Research update

Watching high quality nature programmes on TV can lift people’s moods, reduce negative emotions and help alleviate boredom associated with being indoors, according to a new study from the University of Exeter.1

Researchers induced feelings of boredom in 96 participants by asking them to watch a video in which a person described their work at an office supply company. Participants then experienced scenes of an underwater coral reef in one of three ways: on TV, in a virtual reality headset using 360 degree video, and in a virtual reality headset using computer generated interactive graphics.

They found that all viewing methods minimised negative feelings such as sadness, as well as significantly reduced boredom. However, only the interactive virtual reality experience led to increases in positive feelings, and strengthened how connected people felt to nature.

Nicky Yeo, lead researcher on the study, believes the findings could have important implications for people facing extended periods at home.

"Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people's mood and combat boredom,” she says. “With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of COVID-19 quarantines, this study suggests that nature programmes might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a 'dose' of digital nature."

Dr Mathew White, co-author of the study, added: "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 hospital 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 behaviours and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world."