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Sir David Attenborough documentaries could help people feel connected to nature during lockdown, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·2-min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Sir David Attenborough attends the launch of the London Wildlife Trust's new Flagship nature reserve Woodberry Wetlands on April 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images )
Sir David's documentaries could ward off feelings of sadness and boredom, research suggests. The legendary broadcaster is pictured here in London in 2016. (Getty Images)

Watching “high quality nature programmes” could boost wellbeing during lockdown, research suggests.

Scientists from the University of Exeter made 96 people feel bored by first watching a video about an office supply company.

The participants were then shown unseen coral reef footage from Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series.

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After viewing the nature documentary, the participants reported significantly reduced feelings of sadness and boredom.

Watching the series via a virtual reality headset even induced happiness and a sense of being connected to nature.

The scientists hope their results will encourage people who are stuck indoors amid the coronavirus restrictions to get a dose of “digital nature”.

shocked woman enjoying virtual reality
A virtual reality headset could give users a dose of 'digital nature'. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

“Our results show simply watching nature on TV can help to lift people’s mood and combat boredom,” said lead author Nicky Yeo.

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“With people around the world facing limited access to outdoor environments because of COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] quarantines, this study suggests nature programmes might offer an accessible way for populations to benefit from a ‘dose’ of digital nature.”

Watch: Royal children chat with Sir David Attenborough

Under laboratory conditions, the scientists first induced boredom in the 96 participants by having them watch a video where a person described working at an office supply company.

The participants were then shown scenes of a coral reef; either on television, via a virtual reality headset with a 360 degree video, or via a virtual reality headset using interactive graphics.

The scientists worked with the BBC’s natural history unit to create the coral reef scenes, which featured several clips from the Blue Planet II series, including unseen 360 degree footage.

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Results – published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology – revealed all the viewing methods minimised negative feelings, like sadness, while significantly reducing boredom.

Only the interactive virtual reality experience led to an increase in positive emotions, like happiness, while also strengthening how connected the participants felt to nature.

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

“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.

“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.”

Watch: Sir David Attenborough and Prince William launch environmental prize fund