SEED PROJECT - What effect does virtual reality-based nature exposure have on anxiety and depression in people with brain injury in a hospital rehabilitation ward?

About the Project

Chief Investigator: Dr Michael Norwood

Project Title: What effect does virtual reality-based nature exposure have on anxiety and depression in people with brain injury in a hospital rehabilitation ward?

Project Team: Susan Jones, Dr Leslie Gan, Dr Ali Lakhani, Prof. Louise Gustafsson, A/Prof. Matthew Browning, Isak Hollins, Amanda McAuley, Simona Knight, Olivia McAnirlin
Chelsea Marsh and Jayke Bennett.


Project Summary

This study aims to investigate the impact of virtually delivered nature exposure on anxiety and depression of people with an acquired brain injury (ABI). Experiencing ABI increases the risk of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety; the management of which are difficult and under-researched. A promising approach lies where technology and nature intersect. Virtual nature exposure can reduce affective symptoms in populations for whom real nature is inaccessible. However, research has not been undertaken with an ABI population. This pilot study partners with clinician-researchers from the Gold Coast University Hospital and Logan Hospital, and extends on existing BEEhive virtual reality research.

Expected outcomes from this research could lead to a novel way to reduce symptoms of mood disorders during inpatient ABI rehabilitation and support safe, effective use and uptake of technology to enable recovery and rehabilitation. The BEEhive collaboration provides a pathway for direct clinical translation, thus the research will inform rehabilitation practice at partnering hospitals. This project builds on previous research and if found to be effective, it will support grants for larger pieces of work around the impact of the natural environment on people during ABI rehabilitation.

We look forward to sharing more about this research and how it progresses research objectives and agenda in The Hopkins Centre Enabling Technologies and Environments Program.

The project has recently completed two stakeholder consultation workshops in December 2023 and January 2024, as well as received all research ethics and governance approvals and collected/ edited 360 videos of local national parks for use.


Project Significance

By delivering nature exposure through VR, the progresses the work of the BEEhive lab which is situated in the GCUH neurosciences rehabilitation ward, and explores enriched environments that enable recovery and rehabilitation. The partnership with GCUH facilitates long-term translation and implementation; clinicians have already identified the potential for implementation of the research. As part of the RAP program at GCUH, patients can access the existing VR headsets to use this virtual nature content as soon as it is available.

The research also progresses work that identifies models of environmental access. For populations that cannot access the natural environment and the benefits from being in the natural world, such as patients in hospital rehabilitation, VR could be one way of bringing the natural world to the patient.

The partnership with The Virtual Nature lab in Clemson University is an opportunity to be at the forefront of this burgeoning area of research.

Finally, this grant builds upon previous Hopkins Centre funded seed grant research and BEEhive research (e.g., Lakhani et al., 2019; 2020; Norwood et al., 2019; 2022). Lakhani et al., (2020) found positive effects on anxiety and depression of virtual nature in people with SCI. This remains one of the few studies exploring virtual nature with populations for whom accessing nature is difficult.


Project Updates

March 2024: 

  • Two stakeholder consultation workshops were conducted; December 2022 and January 2023. 
  • All approvals from research ethics and governance have finalised; November 2023.
  • 360 videos of local national parks collected and edited for use; January 2024


Project flyer with person wearing VR goggles at the top and text describing the project below. The Hopkins Centre logos are at the bottom

Click here to view the project flyer on your device. 

View All Researchers