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A comparison of nature and urban environments on creative thinking across different levels of reality

Palanica, Adam, Lyons, Aleksandra, Cooper, Madeline, Lee, Andrew, Fossat, Yan
Journal of environmental psychology 2019 v.63 pp. 44-51
cognition, computer simulation, urban areas
Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to nature environments, as opposed to urban environments, can help restore depleted cognitive resources and reduce emotional and physiological stress. The present research examined the restorative properties of nature on creativity, and also whether this effect was moderated across different levels of reality and psychological immersion of the environment, using 2-dimensional (2D) videos, 3-dimensional (3D) virtual reality (VR), and real-life outdoor settings. Across two experiments, it was predicted that higher levels of reality would increase the restorative benefits of viewing nature environments and enhance creative thinking compared to viewing urban environments. Creativity was evaluated using the Alternative Uses Test when viewing the different environments. Experiment 1 showed that nature videos facilitated higher creativity compared to urban videos, across mediums of viewing stimuli through a 2D mobile tablet and a 3D VR headset. Experiment 2 replicated the first experiment by showing enhanced creativity for nature stimuli compared to urban stimuli using a 2D mobile tablet, but for real-life outdoor environments, both nature and urban conditions evoked the same relatively high level of creativity. The results suggest that the restorative properties of nature are most apparent for creativity when viewing stimuli indoors, however, being outdoors in general may be enough to stimulate creativity, regardless of being surrounded by nature or a busy urban environment.