BMS lab software:

Virtual Nature healing environment

Create and bring nature wherever it is needed.

Nature can be beneficial in the daily lives of people. People will actively try to reconnect to nature, to feel calmed or inspired. Researchers at the University of Twente have tried to distill the origins and measurable impact of nature and to apply it where it matters most. For example, researchers studied its effects in hospitals, elderly homes and other care facilities. The Virtual Nature concept is the result of their research and allows organizations and individuals to create a beneficial or “healing” environment in their buildings, homes and offices. Continue reading to find out more about the system and how to acquire it. Alternatively, you can contact the BMS lab to learn more or get a demo.

What is Virtual Nature?

Virtual nature is a concept developed at the University of Twente. It goes beyond past efforts to include elements of nature in design Instead, it offers users the opportunity to simulate a natural environment in different spaces. More importantly, to create environments that can have different beneficial effects, like a calming influence or inspire people to interact more. Studies have been done with environments that use only visual elements and with versions including sound and scents. Virtual Nature allows you to bring natural environments to places where nature itself is out of reach and to those on who it can have the biggest impact.

Virtual Nature has been found to:

  • Increase the feeling of connectedness with each other and society;
  • Increase the amount of positive emotions and wellbeing;
  • Improve the amount of social engagement and aspirations.

How does it work?

Virtual Nature is a two-part system. Firstly, it consists of a software package with which new environments can be made. Users can create natural environments according to a template or guidelines for a specific effect, or create something fitting with a particular context. Secondly, Virtual Nature focuses on showing the created environments in a way that creates an immersive experience. Create a room for people to calm down low light and an immersive projection and soundtrack. Alternatively, use a wall near a seating area in a well traveled open space to create a place where people come to interact with each other and the environment. Virtual Nature allows users to bring the desired beneficial effects of nature to a location of their choosing.

How can Virtual Nature be used?

Virtual Nature has many uses and a rich history in research. The concept has been used in both the academic and practical settings, ranging from lab research to homes for elderly. An installation exists of the physical (hardware) en immaterial (software). Both can be adjusted to the individual needs of the user. There are three major points of customization. Firstly, different equipment can result in very different results. For example, smart use of different projection equipment can be used to create an immersive experience in both small small and expansive rooms and in areas with little room for equipment. Secondly, the users can create their own Virtual Nature environments or use pre-made ones. Different environments produce different effects and can thus be used to alter the outcome. Thirdly, the optional additions of sound and scent (smell) offer additional layers of immersiveness and potential for research.

A video demonstrating a particular study which used Virtual Nature.

Open access publications on Virtual Nature:

Below you will find a small selection of the published scientific articles on Virtual Nature. Articles that are listed are open access and can be accessed without payment.

  • Van Houwelingen-Snippe, J., Van Rompay, T. J. L., De Jong, M. D. T., & Ben Allouch, S. (2020). Does digital nature enhance social aspirations? An experimental study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 1454.
  • Van Houwelingen-Snippe, J., Van Rompay, T. J. L., & Ben Allouch, S. (2020). Feeling connected after experiencing digital nature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 6879.
  • van Rompay, T. J. L., & Jol, T. (2016). Wild and free: Unpredictability and spaciousness as predictors of creative performance. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 48, 140-148. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.10.001

The people behind Virtual Nature

Dr. Thomas van Rompay

Associate Professor of Communication Science

Thomas van Rompay is behind much of the research behind the Virtual Nature concept. He has been studying the beneficial effects of nature and ways to bring these effects into different settings for more than 10 years.

Dr. Ir. Jan-Willem van ‘t Klooster

Managing Director of the BMS lab

Jan-Willem leads the BMS lab and as such works on creating a viable product out of Virtual Nature. He works with various care institutions and research projects to setup new installations and further the development of the product.

Prof. Dr. Gerben Westerhof

Professor at Psychology, Health and Technology (PGT)

Professor Westerhof is specialised in the contribution of stories to factors such as identity. He was part of the group formed for Virtual Nature.

Prof. Dr. Debby Gerritsen

Professor at Radboud UMC

Debby Gerritsen works at the Radboud UMC in the field of psychology. She was involved in the cooperative efforts around the development of the Virtual Nature concept.

Josca van Houwelingen-Snippe MSc.

PhD candidate Communication Science

Josca is responsible for many of the projects and studies done on Virtual Nature. She studied the effectiveness of Virtual Nature as a means of making people feel connected and as a method of reducing loneliness.

Kars Otten MSc.

PhD candidate Communication Science

Kars is a PhD candidate and researcher at the BMS faculty. In this role, he studied the effects of Virtual Nature in care institutions and is familiar with many of its aspects.

Want to learn more about Virtual Nature?

The Virtual Nature concept is available for both practitioners and researchers. Is your organization interested in using or creating a Virtual Nature environment? Then contact the BMS lab. Professionals from the lab can support organizations and researchers in the process of setting up their installation and creating their environments. Moreover, a fully functioning demo environment is available for viewing at the University of Twente. A license, the required hardware and knowledge on the system can be arranged. Furthermore, the lab can bring your organization in contact with researchers and professionals that can support and further develop your Virtual Nature environment through research and innovative design.