Bringing Nature Indoors With Virtual Reality: Human Reponses to Biophilic Design in Buildings
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CitationYin, Jie. 2019. Bringing Nature Indoors With Virtual Reality: Human Reponses to Biophilic Design in Buildings. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractBiophilia hypothesis suggests humans have innate connections to nature which may affect their health and productivity. Yet we currently live in a world that is rapidly urbanizing with people spending most of their time indoors. Therefore, biophilic design, which incorporates natural elements into the indoor environment, has received increasing attention in both design and health fields. Previous research has demonstrated the associations between outdoor nature contact and health and well-beings. But study quantifying health impacts of indoor biophilic features is limited. The objective of this dissertation is to investigate the short-term health impacts of biophilic design in buildings. To achieve that, we developed a tool by combining virtual reality (VR), eye-tracking and wearable biomonitoring sensors. With that tool, we conducted multiple experiments with different study design to measure physiological and cognitive responses to different biophilic indoor environments.
First, 28 participants spent time in an indoor environment featuring biophilic design elements and one without. In each visit, they experienced the environment for 5 minutes in reality and virtually by using VR. We found that participants experiencing biophilic environment virtually had similar physiological and cognitive responses, including reduced blood pressure and skin conductance and improved short-term memory, as when experiencing the actual environment. Second, we designed a randomized crossover study to let 30 participants experience three versions of biophilic design in simulated open and enclosed office spaces in VR. Compared to the base case, participants in three spaces with biophilic elements had consistently lower level of physiological stress indicators and higher creativity scores. In addition, we captured the variation in the intensity of virtual exposure to biophilic elements by using eye-tracking technology. Lastly, we conducted a between-subjects experiment with 100 participants using VR. Participants were randomly assigned to experience one of four virtual offices (i.e. one non-biophilic base office and three similar offices enhanced with different biophilic design features) for six minutes after stressor tasks. We found that participants in biophilic indoor environments had consistently better recovery responses after a mental stressor compare to those in the non-biophilic environment. Those restorative effects differed among three different types of indoor biophilic environments.
We show significant physiological and cognitive benefits in indoor environments with diverse biophilic design features, which could help in understanding, applying and promoting biophilic design in buildings.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42013069
- FAS Theses and Dissertations 
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