This project is examining how different types of virtual environments might be used to improve health and wellbeing.

It is one half of our virtual reality work, and focuses on using 360 degree ‘live action’ environments. Information on our work using computer generated virtual reality can be found here.

 

 

A growing body of evidence shows that spending time in natural settings can have positive effects on health and wellbeing.  Yet many people may not be able to access these spaces easily.

This study will explore how 360 videos viewed in a virtual reality headset might bring some of these possible benefits to people who are unable to visit ‘real’ environments themselves. This might include older people in care homes, those with physical impairments caused by either major surgery or long term disability, and individuals in end-of-life care.

Through an incremental process of testing, the University of Exeter is creating an optimised series of 360 degree videos (like this). These films allow a user to experience a high definition ‘real life’ view of a pre-recorded environment. These scenes will feature high quality blue spaces viewed from land, the air, and underwater. They will aim to maximise sensory immersion in relaxing environments such as calm beaches, and stimulating settings like coral reefs and aquariums.

We will assess the impact of both footage types on a range of physiological and psychological health outcomes. The former may include measures such as heart rate variability, galvanic skin response and stress biomarkers. The latter will primarily consist of standardised self-report questionnaires.

The potential for these videos to influence wellbeing will be systematically tested along with virtual worlds created by Lund University, allowing us to directly compare how true virtual reality environments (those built with computer generated graphics) perform against live action 360 videos across a range of environmental conditions.

These two contrasting delivery methods will then be offered simultaneously in care homes in both the UK and Sweden in pilot studies that will examine how they can be effectively implemented in healthcare settings.

Our filming work will also be complemented by a systematic review of the impacts of indoor nature on older people’s health and wellbeing. By gathering and analysing all of the existing evidence in this area, we hope to gain a clearer idea of where and how virtual nature could have the greatest positive impacts.