Daily exposure to virtual nature reduces symptoms of anxiety in college students

Matthew H.E.M. Browning, Seunguk Shin, Gabrielle Drong, Olivia McAnirlin, Ryan J. Gagnon, Shyam Ranganathan, Kailan Sindelar, David Hoptman, Gregory N. Bratman, Shuai Yuan, Vishnunarayan Girishan Prabhu, Wendy Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Exposure to natural environments offers an array of mental health benefits. Virtual reality provides simulated experiences of being in nature when outdoor access is limited. Previous studies on virtual nature have focused mainly on single "doses" of virtual nature. The effects of repeated exposure remain poorly understood. Motivated by this gap, we studied the influence of a daily virtual nature intervention on symptoms of anxiety, depression, and an underlying cause of poor mental health: rumination. Forty college students (58% non-Hispanic White, median age = 19) were recruited from two U.S. universities and randomly assigned to the intervention or control group. Over several weeks, anxious arousal (panic) and anxious apprehension (worry) decreased with virtual nature exposure. Participants identifying as women, past VR users, experienced with the outdoors, and engaged with the beauty in nature benefited particularly strongly from virtual nature. Virtual nature did not help symptoms of anhedonic depression or rumination. Further research is necessary to distinguish when and for whom virtual nature interventions impact mental health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1239
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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