Physiological and Affective Responses to Immersion in Virtual Reality: Effects of Nature and Urban Settings
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With the rapid advancements in technology, researchers are seeking new ways to incorporate modern high-tech solutions such as virtual reality into treatment paradigms for stress. The current experiment explores the beneficial effects of immersing an individual into virtual reality after a stressful encounter. I examined the potential restorative effects of three unique immersive virtual reality environments by inducing stress and negative affect in sixty-nine participants and then randomly assigning them to freely explore one of three environments (a virtual nature setting, a virtual urban cityscape, or a neutral environment composed of solid geometric shapes) for ten minutes. Participants who explored the nature environment were found to have significantly improved affect (as measured by a standardized questionnaire), and significantly lower stress levels (as measured by self-report and skin-conductance levels) compared to those who explored the urban and geometric environments. The results suggest that virtual nature has restorative properties similar to real nature, and that simply immersing participants into a virtual nature setting can reduce stress. These results also suggest that the content of the virtual reality experience (i.e., whether it contains nature) is important in promoting restoration, and that in the absence of nature, stress levels remain unchanged.