Watching high-quality programmes on nature on TV can uplift one's mood, reduce negative emotions, and help alleviate the kind of boredom associated with being isolated indoors, say researchers.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal, shows that experiencing nature in virtual reality could have even larger benefits, boosting positive feelings and increasing people's connection to the natural world.
"Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people's mood and combat boredom," said study author Nicky Yeo from the University of Exeter in the UK.
"With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of Covid-19 quarantine, this study suggests that nature programmes might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a 'dose' of digital nature," Yeo added.
Under laboratory conditions, the researchers first induced feelings of boredom in 96 participants by asking them to watch a video in which a person describes their work at an office supply company.
They then experienced scenes of an underwater coral reef in one of three different ways: on TV; in a VR headset using 360-degree video, and in a VR headset using computer-generated interactive graphics.
The team found that all viewing methods minimised negative feelings such as sadness, as well as significantly reducing boredom.
However, only the interactive virtual reality experience led to an increase in positive feelings, such as happiness, and strengthened how connected people felt to nature.
The research team believes the findings could have important implications for populations facing extended periods at home.
"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 a hospital or in long term care," the study authors wrote.
"But it might also help to encourage a deeper connection to nature in healthy populations, a mechanism which can foster more pro-environmental behaviour and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world," they noted.