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Becoming nature: effects of embodying a tree in immersive Virtual Reality on nature relatedness

Spangenberger, Pia; Geiger, Sonja Maria; Freytag, Sarah-Christin

FG Arbeitslehre / Ökonomie und Nachhaltiger Konsum

The potential of using immersive virtual reality (iVR) technologies to enhance nature relatedness by embodying non-human beings, such as plants or animals, is only sparsely researched. To contribute to this emerging research field we conducted an experimental study (N = 28) that compared the effects of the viewing condition (iVR or desktop) while embodying a tree on nature relatedness, perspective-taking and, as a control, on perceived immersion. A mixed-method approach employing quantitative and qualitative questions was used. Our results showed that irrespective of condition allocation, the more immersed participants felt in their experience, the greater they reported increased levels of nature relatedness (r = 0.42, p < .05). While our quantitative data did yield a difference in immersion levels between the viewing condition (iVR vs. video, t(26) = 2.05, p = .05, d = .50) that did not translate into a stronger experimental effect of the iVR condition on nature relatedness (FInteraction(1,26) < 1). Regarding perspective taking, no significant differences between both groups emerged in the number of users who self-reported having fully taken on the perspective of the tree, (χ2(1) = 2.33, p = .127). However, only participants from the iVR group described their experience from a first-person perspective, suggesting a higher level of identification with the tree. This matches the observation that only those participants also reported self-reflective processes of their own role as a human being towards nature. Our results support previous research suggesting that experiencing nature via immersive VR in itself does not seem to suffice for creating an effect on nature relatedness. However, we observed that a higher perceived level of immersion for participants experiencing the embodiment of a tree in the iVR condition provoked reflective processes on one’s own role towards nature more strongly. We discuss the role of immersion and further factors to explain these differences and suggest steps for future research settings to help understand the beneficial potential of using immersive VR for nature relatedness.