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New study exploring how digital nature experiences support wellbeing

by Megan Whitby | 01 Feb 2021

It’s well-documented that nature has a profound effect on wellbeing, but a new study is investigating our response to digital and virtual experiences of nature.

The research is part of a wider collaboration between the BBC and the University of Exeter named ‘Soundscapes for Wellbeing’, looking into how best to bring virtual experiences of nature to those who can’t get outside.

Led by psychologist and PhD researcher Alex Smalley, the study explores people's responses to different digital nature environments created by award-winning composer Nainita Desai and sound recordist Chris Watson.

The experiment was originally designed with vulnerable people in long-term care or those restricted to clinical settings in mind – most of whom can't get outdoors and are deprived of nature’s benefits.

Lockdown has since increased the number of people shut off from nature and so the urge is growing to investigate how these virtual experiences could be used as an alternative means to support wellbeing.

Speaking on BBC WinterWatch, Smalley called digital nature encounters "therapeutic tools in their own right” and gave two possible reasons to explain this:

“Firstly, we evolved in natural environments, so we should have an innate biophilic preference for viewing them and spending time in them.

“Secondly, there are these inherent qualities in nature – things that can capture our fascination and hold our attention – which can help those parts of our brains that might be stressed and tired to recover."

The study’s results could provide valuable insights and evidence for spa operators on how best to use digital nature applications to boost customer wellbeing.

For example, spas could offer immersive VR relaxation treatments using rich nature visuals and wildlife sound-effects, or incorporate recorded nature soundtracks into wet and thermal experiences.

In light of COVID, operators could make use of the digital nature of the treatments to appeal to the growing numbers of customers looking for touchless experiences. Plus, day spas in cities could use such offerings to enhance their attraction as calming sanctuaries from busy urban life.

The study is open to people aged over-18 and takes 10 minutes. To take part, follow this link.

Nature  Alex Smalley  Soundscapes for Wellbeing  University of Exeter  wellbeing  day spas  VR  
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It’s well-documented that nature has a profound effect on wellbeing, but a new study is investigating our response to digital and virtual experiences of nature. The research is part of a wider collaboration between the BBC and the University of Exeter named ‘Soundscapes for Wellbeing’, looking into how best to bring virtual experiences of nature to those who can’t get outside. Led by psychologist and PhD researcher Alex Smalley, the
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Lead researcher Alex Smalley called digital nature encounters
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