Watching nature shows on TV can cure boredom, sadness

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EXETER, United Kingdom — It’s fair to say the coronavirus pandemic has turned many people into TV binge watchers in 2020. For some people however, isolation is leaving them bored and depressed no matter what’s on television. A new study finds there may be a way to cure this boredom and get back in touch with nature, without leaving your couch. Researchers at the University of Exeter find that watching nature programming actually reduces feelings of boredom and sadness.

The study examined 96 participants who researchers actively tried to bore before their experiments. To accomplish this, the volunteers watched a video where a person described their work at an office supply company.

After being sufficiently fatigued by this dull tale, researchers showed the group scenes of an underwater coral reef. Participants watched these scenes either on television, in a virtual reality headset using 360-degree video, or a VR headset using computer-generated graphics.

The results reveal all three formats minimized the feeling of sadness in each volunteer. Each viewing option also significantly reduced boredom. With so many people working from home due to social distancing restrictions, study authors say this could have positive therapeutic effects.

“Our results show that simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people’s mood and combat boredom. With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of COVID-19 quarantines, this study suggests that nature programs might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a ‘dose’ of digital nature,” lead researcher Nicky Yeo says in a university release.

Nature shows in VR may help even more

For those who have access to a VR headset, researchers find this technology can have an even bigger impact on your mood. Virtual reality experiences not only relieved boredom, but also increased positive feelings and strengthened a participant’s connection to nature.

“We’re particularly excited by the additional benefits immersive experiences of nature might provide,” study co-author Dr. Mathew White adds.

“Virtual reality could help us to boost the wellbeing of people who can’t readily access the natural world, such as those in hospital or in long term care,” he continues. “But it might also help to encourage a deeper connection to nature in healthy populations, a mechanism which can foster more pro-environmental behaviors and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world.”

The study appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

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