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Colorful Urban Environment, Even In VR, Promotes Well-Being

Using virtual reality, the study found that green vegetation made volunteers walk more slowly and also increased their heart rate, indicative of a pleasurable experience. Meanwhile, colorful patterns increased alertness, fascination and curiosity. The study illustrates the potential of simple interventions to improve the lives of citizens, as well as the power of virtual reality to test such interventions.

Crowded streets, noise and dull gray buildings can lead to stress and fatigue. In short, cities can be bad for your health and emotional well-being. The antidote to such problems may lie in nature, which has a calming and restorative effect. After all, man evolved in the natural environment, and city life is a relatively new phenomenon.

One way to make cities more welcoming could be to introduce patches of vegetation or colorful patterns.  However, planting plants or painting buildings to test these approaches is expensive and inconvenient. Moreover, studying these phenomena in the open air can be challenging, as a huge number of factors can influence the final results.

Using virtual reality, the team created an immersive urban environment with either no or little vegetation. They also introduced colorful patterns on the path in the virtual environment.

The researchers invited students from their university to take part in the study. Each of the student volunteers, wearing a virtual reality headset and walking in place, explored the virtual environment. To determine where and for how long the volunteers looked, an eye movement sensor was built into each headset.

The study found that students walked more slowly when green vegetation was present in the simulation and their heart rate increased.  They also spent less time looking at the ground and more time observing their surroundings. These results, indicative of a pleasant experience, were also found when people spend time near vegetation in the real world.

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