Colorful urban environments, even if only in virtual reality, promote well-being – Eurasia Review

Dull urban environments tend to increase our stress, while nature can soothe the soul, but how do you get the best of both? One option is to increase color and vegetation in cities, but finding the best approach can be tricky. A new study in Borders in virtual reality tested the effects of vegetation and colorful patterns in urban settings.

Using virtual reality, the study found that green vegetation caused volunteers to walk more slowly, while increasing their heart rate, indicating a pleasant experience. Meanwhile, colorful patterns increased alertness, fascination and curiosity. The study illustrates the potential of simple interventions to improve the lives of city dwellers, as well as the power of virtual reality to test such interventions.

The cityscape can bring you down

Crowded streets, noise and drab gray buildings can lead to stress and fatigue. In short, cities can be bad for your health and emotional well-being. An antidote to such problems may lie in nature, which can have calming and restorative effects. After all, humans evolved in a natural environment and urban living is a relatively new phenomenon.

One way to make towns more hospitable can be to introduce patches of vegetation or colorful patterns. However, installing plants or painting buildings to test these approaches is expensive and impractical. Moreover, studying these phenomena outdoors can be tricky, as a large number of factors can affect the final results.

“Measuring pleasure and motivation in natural environments is difficult,” explained Professor Yvonne Delevoye-Turrell of the University of Lille, lead author of the study. “Human responses are sensitive to environmental changes, such as weather or traffic, and to measurement bias. Therefore, we used virtual reality as a proof of concept to measure reactions to these interventions in a simulated urban space.

Virtual modeling of urban developments

Using virtual reality, the team created an immersive urban environment without vegetation or with green vegetation. They also introduced colorful patterns on a path in the virtual environment.

The researchers invited students from their university to participate in the study. Each wearing a VR headset and walking in place, the student volunteers spent time exploring the virtual environment. To determine where the volunteers were looking and for how long, each headset included an eye tracker.

Vegetation and color for more well-being

The study found that the students walked slower when there was green vegetation 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, which indicate a pleasant experience, were also found when people spend time near vegetation in the real world.

The color patterns alone did not have quite the same restorative effect as the green vegetation, but they stimulated the interest and fascination of the students and caught their eyes while increasing their heart rate, indicating increased physiological arousal.

This study showed that virtual reality could be a very useful tool for urban planners, allowing them to virtually test the impact of various interventions. The results also suggest that increasing the amount of green vegetation and colorful designs in urban environments could improve the well-being of city dwellers, giving a new twist to the term “concrete jungle”.

In the future, the researchers hope to make the VR experience even more immersive to get the most accurate results. “Smells and sounds could be the next step in virtual reality to truly test the impact of colors on walking enjoyment,” Delevoye-Turrell said.