Exploring associations of older adults with virtual nature: a randomised factorial online survey

Kars Otten*, Thomas J.L. van Rompay, Jan-Willem van 't Klooster, Debby L. Gerritsen, Gerben J. Westerhof

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Loneliness and social isolation are important social determinants of wellbeing of older adults. Conversational exchanges can promote connectedness between older adults, however, conversations may not always come easy. Research shows that exposure to nature-based stimuli such as pictures and videos can stimulate social aspirations and trigger associations that could facilitate conversations, in particular when nature scenery is perceived as fascinating, mysterious, spacious and suited for social interaction. Therefore, this study investigated whether exposure to these nature characteristics (high versus low) lead to associations that could act as conversational material. A randomised factorial design, using a virtual reality-based approach for experimental control, led to 17 different virtual representations of nature (VN). In total, 150 participants (60 years and older) were recruited for an online survey. Spontaneous associations were coded on personal engagement and valence. The number of associations was measured with one multiple-choice question. VN exposure successfully triggered personally engaging and positively valenced associations and were related to multiple associations, in particular when the VN were high on mystery. Furthermore, positive effects of VN exposure was more pronounced for participants with high (rather than low) levels of nature relatedness and many (rather than few) available nature opportunities. These findings indicate that VN exposure provides fertile ground for conversations as a means to promote connectedness and social wellbeing of older adults.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAgeing & society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 27 Feb 2023


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