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Can VR Mimic Nature's Power to Make Us Healthier?

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A young woman relaxes in nature, and in virtual reality.

“We know enough to be confident that [exposure to nature] is good for most people in most circumstances,” says Matthew Browning, an environmental psychologist and environmental epidemiologist at Clemson University.

Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Scientists are investigating whether virtual reality (VR) can offer some of the health benefits of being in nature.

Oregon Health & Science University's Hector Olvera Alvarez used VR to expose participants to visual aspects of nature while manipulating elements like temperature, light, and air pollution.

Olvera Alvarez said some research confirmed health benefits connected to the virtual experience of nature, although they are modest compared to those enabled by actual exposure.

The University of Washington's Gregory Bratman suggests this disparity may be associated with VR missing "ecological validity" because of natural aspects it does not replicate.

Clemson University's Matthew Browning said while virtual nature can be beneficial under certain circumstances, "It's a tool. It's not a replacement."

From Scientific American
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