The idea that nature can have a rejuvenating effect is of course not new. “There’s joy in the mountains; There’s life in the fountains; Small clouds are sailing; Blue sky prevailing”, wrote William Wordsworth back in 1802.
But if we can’t reach the countryside, what about the benefit of looking at nature in photos or on TV? Yvonee de Kort and colleagues believe that crucial to such media having a beneficial effect is how immersed in the simulated natural environment an observer feels.
To test this, 80 participants watched a ten-minute nature film after being stressed out by an arithmetic task conducted in a noisy environment. Half the participants watched the video on a massive 72-inch screen, the other half on a 31-inch screen. Measures of the participants’ skin conductance and heart beat showed participants who watched the big screen calmed down more quickly after the maths test than did participants who watched the small screen.
The researchers said: “If a relatively moderate and simple screen size manipulation is effective, a more immersive environment – that is, extensive, multimodal or interactive – should definitely have potential, for instance for therapeutic use”.
de Kort, Y.A.W., Meijinders, A.L., Sponselee, A.A.G. & Ijsselsteijn, W.A. (2007). What’s wrong with virtual trees? Restoring from stress in a mediated environment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26, 309-320.