The science behind
The restorative effects of natural environments have been generally explained taking into account an evolutionary perspective. The common argument underlines that, as an outcome of millions of year of evolution in natural environments, human beings have developed a genetic readiness to interact with natural environments (Kellert & Wilson, 1993. See also Grinde 2009 and Grinde & Patil 2009). Nonetheless, humans do not possess the same level of readiness to respond to the stimuli from non-natural “built” settings and materials (Ulrich, 1993).
A number of empirical research have investigated directly the restorative effect of green settings (Van den Berg et al., 2007; Grinde, & Patil, 2009), showing positive effects for natural environments compared to artificial environments exposure regarding cognitive and physiological responses. The environments taken into exams have been various and very different, including wild areas (Hartig, Mang & Evans, 1991), gardens and city green areas (Ottosson & Grahn, 2005) as well as indoor settings, merely viewing green areas through a window (Faber Taylor, Kuo & Sullival, 2002; Raanaas, Patil, & Hartig, 2012).
These findings of field studies have been addressed with laboratory experiments in order to investigate the development of specific psychological benefits when subjects are exposed to natural environment elements. Exposure to natural scenes using a screen was investigated by several studies (Berto, 2005; Ulrich et al., 1991; Van den Berg et al., 2003), confirming that videos or static images showing natural environments lead to faster and better recovery from stress when compared to the same experimental setting showed built environments. Comparing photo sets and/or videos showing natural environments and natural scenes proved a robust perceived restorative effect of natural settings vs. not natural ones (see Verlade, Fri & Tveit, 2007).
The field is now rapidly developing towards the use of immersive virtual reality environments, in order to maximize the positive effect of nature even when a real experience in the great outdoor is not possible.