Wednesday 14 October 2020

Watching television nature programmes improves mental health

In an extension of the well-known benefits of walking in the natural environment as a means to improve mental health, researchers also believe that simply watching television nature programmes can lift your mood and spirits, reduce negative emotions and help alleviate boredom during isolation, which is particularly prevalent at the moment during this nasty coronavirus pandemic.

Watching nature TV programs benefits mental health. Picture in public domain.

If you want to go further you can buy into virtual reality and buy a headset which apparently may bring even greater benefits so say the scientists from the University of Exeter. They studied 96 participants who were subjected to short videos. They first subjected to the participants to a very boring video to try and get them bored. They were then shown video footage supplied by the BBC Natural History Unit film for Blue Planet II. It showed colourful underwater scenes of fish and corals. Some of the participants used VR headsets with 360-degree video. Others wore VR headsets using interactive graphics. All the participants reported reduced negative feelings and levels of boredom.

Those using interactive VR headsets reported increased positive feelings i.e. happiness. They also felt better connected to nature. The researchers felt that the results might benefit people who are forced to spend extended periods at home. This of course must include the elderly, infirm and those who are considered vulnerable during the pandemic in particular. It is probably true to say that there are many more people who are confined to their homes than people realise.

The lead researcher, Nicky Yeo, said that the results show that "watching nature on TV can help to lift people's mood and combat boredom".

A co-author of the study, Matthew White, which was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology said: "We Are particularly excited by the additional benefits immersive experiences of nature might provide. Virtual reality could help us to boost the well-being of people who can't readily access the natural world, such as those in hospital or in long-term care. But it might also help to encourage a deeper connection to nature in healthy populations, a mechanism which can foster more pro--environmental behaviours and prompt people to protect and preserve nature in the real world".

The reason? Perhaps the obvious reason is that humans come from nature and therefore we are innately connected to it. If we immerse ourselves in nature we make a connection to our ancient roots which is healing to us. Perhaps it reassures us and grounds us. That is my personal theory. Another possible reason is that the unthreatening natural world triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to restore the body to a calm state. And the third theory suggests that modern life over-stimulates the human which depletes attentional resources causing cognitive fatigue and a negative mood. Watching nature programmes help to restore a balance in the human being.

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