A study published in September 2016 by a collaboration of American scientists from the universities of Stanford, Connecticut and Georgia, demonstrates that virtual reality can be used to help people feel a part of, and better understand, the natural world by enabling them to experience the sensory perspectives and bodily movements of other life forms.
The 54 participants selected and involved in the immersive experience, in which their head movements were tracked in a three-dimensional world, were enabled to see the world of the future through the eyes of a cow or a coral reef.
As cows, the participants wearing virtual reality headsets were left to walk around a virtual pasture on all fours, being jabbed by a cattle prod and told they were going to be loaded onto a truck. Those as a coral reef saw their own body ‘corrode’ and the ocean around them decay as a result of ocean acidification.
By immersing themselves in the experiences of another species rather than simply watching the scenes on a screen, both of which were part of the study, the participants reported having enhanced feelings of interconnectedness and involvement with nature.