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Secondary data analysis 

Actual versus simulated natural environment

Is an actual natural environment better than its virtual one?

Recently, simulated/virtual environments have been widely used to study the restorative effect of environmental exposures. However, several aspects of simulated natural environments make them different from ‘actual nature’, for example, limited sensory aspects, lack of interactivity with the environment, and image resolution. These limitations make a simulated environment feel less ‘real’ and different from the experience of actually being in that environment.

By employing secondary data, we compared simulated and actual outdoor experiences and explored whether simulated natural environments are satisfactory substitutes for real environments in medical and clinical settings. In particular, we compared changes in depression, anxiety, stress, positive and negative mood, nature connectedness and mindfulness following a mindfulness practice in a simulated natural environment compared to an actual natural environment. For most outcomes the benefits were similar, but the actual natural environment was associated with larger decreases in stress and greater increases in nature connectedness than the simulated natural environment.

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Whilst actual natural environments may be more effective for some measures, notably nature connectedness, the development and use of simulated natural environments may support groups who would for mobility or other reasons would have difficulty in accessing a natural environment.

How to cite:

E. Y. Choe, A. Jorgensen, D. Sheffield (2021). Examining the effectiveness of mindfulness practice in simulated and actual natural environments: Secondary data analysis. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 66. 

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