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Virtual Healthy Environments: Feasibility Study in Societies Affected by COVID-19 Summary of Results

Between 19 April and 12 May 2020, we ran an online survey titled "VHE for Well-Being".  Our goal was to better understand people's psychological needs, especially the relationship between Covid-19 confinement and mental health. We also aimed to test feasibility and demand for Virtual Healthy Environments (VHE) - our solution for health and well-being. To do this, we developed a questionnaire in five languages: English, Polish, Italian, Spanish and French and shared it through our website and social media (see the call for responses here). Please check out the summary of our work below! A special thank you to all participants who helped us discover these important trends!

Sample Characteristics

We collected 507 (318 female) responses from nearly every continent, but mainly from Europe. Most were from Poland, Spain and Italy, primarily representing two different socio-geographic zones: South-European (Mediterranean) and Central European regions. There were also contributions from France and the UK to help understand Western European trends. 

The respondents were between 19 and 90 years old, with most between 24 and 41 years old (n=294). There were 23 elderly respondents (>65 years old). The largest portion of our respondents was from high-density cities (33%) or large or medium-sized cities (25%). 12% reported living in the suburbs of big cities. This means the majority of respondents (70%) were from the urban population.

Summary of Main Findings

We ran our analysis based on two groups of psychological issues:

1. General mental health & well-being: comprised of the feelings of loneliness, helplessness, isolation, restlessness, sadness or depression, anxiety, worry and uncertainty about the future, higher irritability, and insomnia.

2. Productivity & cognitive performance: comprised of the feeling of boredom, problems with memory, and decreased motivation, productivity and concentration.

    • Men reported less general mental health issues than women, but stronger productivity/cognitive issues. It looks like women cope better with cognitive performance but are worse with general mental health issues than men. However, it is also possible that women were more willing to report these mental health issues as other research suggests.
    • A large majority (85%) of respondents missed meeting with friends and family the most during confinement (Figure 8). Travelling and contact with nature were the second most missed activities with 59% and 58% of people affected, respectively. Over half (53%) of respondents missed events and socialising, 36% missed going to work and/or school and 37% practising sport.

 

  • Percentage of respondents listing each activity in response to the question: "What did you miss the most in the period of confinement?", broken down by gender.

Did people miss nature?

    • In our survey, 58% of people reported missing contact with nature during the confinement period. Interestingly, this was an activity missed equally by men and women; people of all ages, across all income brackets, and levels of education.
    • People living in big cities missed contact with nature significantly more than others (strong link found between city size and missing nature during confinement).
    • Also, self-employed individuals and homemakers reported missing nature significantly more than others.
  • person experiencing the healing benefits of being in nature
    Lack of time in nature was a significant factor during Covid-19 confinement and mental health was negatively affected as a result
  • Other research shows that people are poor at explicitly seeing the positive health effect of nature: it is good for them, but they are not always aware of it. This makes it challenging to capture these effects in self-reported surveys.  This highlights the need for providing education about and evidence for the benefits of exposure to nature on mental health and well-being.

 

Can Virtual Healthy Environments be a Solution?

At NeuroLandscape we are developing a self-care tool based on Virtual Reality (VR) technology and exposure to nature (read more about the project). It is a solution for all those who cannot access healing natural environments as often as they would like to in order to keep their mind healthy. We addressed some survey questions to test the feasibility of our solution. This will be useful to support our research grant applications. Below are some interesting findings we hope will convince the grantors.

  • The vast majority (79%) of respondents declared being interested in VR technology. VR use at home and during potential future confinement periods was the preferred situation.
  • People who declared missing travelling were more likely to try Virtual Healthy Environments.
  • Women, in general, reported greater interest in using VR for contact with nature and self-care activities than men (32% vs. 17% for contact with nature), while men preferred VR for games and movies.
"For what activities would you use VR technology?" - Percentage of individuals who listed each activity, broken down by gender.

 

Other interesting findings

Overall, people reported a decline in mental health and wellbeing due to confinement. However, the effect was not incremental over time (more time confined did not correlate with worse mental health and wellbeing). Our respondents missed meeting friends and family the most, followed by travelling, socializing, and contact with nature. The least missed activity was shopping. Nature was missed more by urban than rural dwellers, but it was equally missed by men and women, people of all ages, across all income brackets, and levels of education. Interestingly,  people who missed going to work or school reported worsened productivity and cognitive performance as a consequence of confinement.

Conclusions

This survey has more clearly defined the relationship between Covid-19 confinement and mental health. Respondents were not only able to self-report the effects on their mood, but also shared the degree to which specific activities were missed. These findings were useful in evaluating the potential of the VHE app in helping to mitigate the negative effects of adverse stressful circumstances (such as the confinement period). They show it could be effective to provide a digital tool based on VR for improving mental health.

We would like to thank all participants of the survey!

Survey and Report Authors : Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, Dr Nicolas Escoffier, Dr Weronika Gąsior, Agnieszka Chadała. Full text of the report available through info@neurolandscape.org

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Take part in our survey and support research and development in the times of pandemic

The current global outbreak of #COVID19 makes the problem of our living space and mental health more relevant than ever. Read more in our recent blog post.  This is why we need new solutions and new approaches.

Please complete this 5-min, anonymous survey. If possible, share it with your family and friends, with special attention to elderly people, who (that’s our guess) could benefit from our solutions the most.

The form is available in 5 languages:

1) English – https://forms.gle/SDfC3reh21pXdWw79

2) Polish – https://forms.gle/5jkfNLn7vrsVRKLW9

3) Italian – https://forms.gle/DMPEYNVtKXFLQ1367

4) Spanish – https://forms.gle/3iUCWRZMJ4HhUYWp6

5) French –https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSchCH4Wzs4Y7eVtHHtsB0SrIbs23-I2mgvIz0vmGjQCsgYzQg/viewform

We envision to share the results from this survey on our website soon, in the form of a comprehensive report.

Stay tuned. Stay healthy. Stay sane.

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Neuroscience solutions

One of the main goals of NEUROLANDSCAPE is to grow the body of knowledge and awareness about the healing and restorative effect of being immersed in natural environments, and effects of the built elements on our brain.
We are continuously running laboratory and on-site experiments that bring us closer to understanding just how the human brain responds to different environmental stimuli, especially those, that we can experience in cities.
The state of the art in the area of the evidence-based landscape design is still in its infancy, existing evidence are based on relatively small sample sizes and modest experimental techniques.

Together with our supporters and donors, we want to change this status quo through providing the rigorous experimental design, with reliable number of participants and using the most recent medical equipment.
We are open to adjusting the experimental design for exact needs of the interested parties, for example engaging participants diagnosed with a specific disorder, in a specific age group, or measuring the effect of a specific landscape on human brain.
We are also interested in long-term studies based on application of non-pharmacological treatments.

 

Our equipment:

We are constantly growing our lab inventory with the neuroscience equipment as well as the stimulation display equipment.  We have been working with:

  • Enobio, by Neuroelectrocs
  • eeggo sport, by ANT
  • NIRSport (LLC NIRx Medical Technologies)

 

  • 3D camcorder (TR80 by Sony)
  • 3D Projector, and displaying screen
  • 3D shutter glasses system (by Nvidia)

 

 

What we offer
We offer a complex approach to the research problems. Besides the knowledge about the possible effects of the landscape itself, we offer publishing the outcomes of an experiment in a form of a case-study in a peer-reviewed journal, in a form of a case study. Also, additional publication possibilities may be discussed and considered. All our research attempts are strictly subject to ethical evaluation, and run according to experimental protocols. 

 

The procedure
If you have an idea for a study using the neuroscience solutions, please contact us by filling the form below. As we are a non-profit organization linked with academia, we first need to review the funding and grant possibilities. All ideas and funding opportunities will be greatly appreciated in the process.

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Cetrify your Landscape

One of NEUROLANDSCAPE’s continuous attempts is to run the evaluation of public and private green spaces in order to measure their capacity of inducing in the visitors the pattern of brain activity associated with improved mental health, well-being and stress reduction.

Our CLASS tool is able to score digital landscape views (photos), but not entire three-dimensional space.  To improve upon its capacities, we developed a service for measuring the overall contemplative score of a whole place, and with the data acquired, updating our constantly growing database.
We issue certificates which can be used for any interested party, that can be used for raising public awareness or for marketing purposes. We are providing the “Certify your Space” opportunity for both public and private bodies in charge of green spaces, that may include:

- Urban parks and gardens
- Elements of urban green infrastructure
- Waterways, shores and beaches
- Hospital gardens
- Rehabilitation retreats
- Elderly houses
- Alzheimer Institutes
- Kindergartens and school gardens
- University Campuses
- Golf courses
- Tourist resorts and areas around the hotels
- Mindfulness retreats
- Corporate landscapes attached to working space
- Library yards
- Private gardens
…..and many others

1.  Our experts visit the landscape in question and choose the most significant views of the park based on the developed methodology. The number of views depends on the size of the space to be evaluated.

2. They evaluate the landscapes manually, using The Contemplative Landscape Model. Details of the development of this model have been described in the paper titled "What makes a landscape contemplative?"

3. Simultaneously, the photographic data collected onsite is uploaded to the CLASS system, and returns an instant scoring.

4. Both manually acquired and CLASS scores are utilized in order to compute the final total score.

5. What we deliver:
- a Contemplative Landscape Certificate, with scoring and classification of the space. 
- a detailed Contemplative Landscape Report (including: overview and analyses of selected landscape views, partial and total scores from experts and from CLASS, additional observations with analysis of opportunities and limitations in the space.

 

If you’re interested, please contact us by filling out the form here. We will get back to you and adjust the service to your exact needs.

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CLASS Software

Contemplative Landscape Automated Scoring System (CLASS)

CLASS stands for Contemplative Landscape Automated Scoring System. And it is the software that enables instant scoring of any digital landscape image according to seven contemplative landscape features:

How was CLASS developed?

The research on CLASS started with the process of operationalization of the concept of contemplative landscapes. This was based on the assumption that each landscape setting (scene, view) has some level of the contemplative values (aka. sensori-emotional values that may influence our emotional states, sense of well-being or even physiological processes.

There are already existing tools that enable recognizing and evaluating the scenic beauty or visual quality of a landscape. However, they are not calibrated to serve for the typically urbanized context, such as urban parks, gardens and different types of areas touched by landscape architecture design. Another problem with so far existing evaluation tools is the problem with expert-based approach. The main limitation for all expert-based tools is the low level of precision, reliability and validity. This means that the differences between responses of different experts about the same landscape are sometimes as big as differences between two different landscape settings.

We wanted to overcome these limitations, and create a new tool, a Contemplative Landscape Model, that we tested for reliability and validity. When our traditional tool was ready, we asked a group of international experts to annotate the set of images, using our tool. The details of that process was published in a paper titled “What makes a landscape contemplative?” [1]The database of their responses served as a training data for our neural network.

After months of testing, we were able to choose the combination of ANN models that would produce the best combined contemplativeness score and created the CLASS scoring system that can evaluate the contemplativeness of landscape images with scores similar to those of experts.  The figure below presents the performance of the CLASS prototype in comparison to “real experts”. The detailed process is described in the paper titled “CLASS: Contemplative landscape automated scoring system” [2].


What is CLASS?

We can say that CLASS is an artificial expert’s brain trained to classify the level of contemplativeness of the landscapes, combining the expertise of 10 international academic experts. It recognizes seven key features of a contemplative landscape within an uploaded digital picture, and gives an immediate, objective score for each of the seven features as well as the total contemplative score. CLASS is also constantly learning creating a database with every picture, so the more it works the more precise and intelligent it becomes.

Anybody with a license subscription can access the CLASS via online, where, through the friendly interface they can upload any digital image they want evaluated and obtain instant scoring of the contemplativeness of a picture.

      

How to select the photographs for CLASS?

CLASS is sensitive only to images of landscapes of urban parks and gardens so it wouldn’t work if we upload a photo of a puppy, or any other than it is not designed for. In order to obtain more precise scores, we recommend to upload a good quality, digital photographs of a clear view over the space, from a ground level (eye level of a standing person) in daylight, and without animals or too many people within the view. Some examples are given aside. The image should be taken in most interesting for us weather conditions, so for example, if we want to see how contemplative is the space in general, we should take a picture in the weather conditions that are the most common, and most likely for largest number of people to be seen.

How much does it cost?

We are a non-profit organization so we consider using of the CLASS as pro-bono approach. However, because of the costs of the servers, and maintenance of the software we will charge private entities who want to use it. The costs of a license subscription can be found here along with the payment method.

Does it really work?

As much as it is surprising and hard to believe, YES! If you don’t believe it, please check it out for free through our demo version!

References:

  1. Olszewska, A. A., Marques, P. F., Ryan, R. L., & Barbosa, F. (2016). What makes a landscape contemplative?. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 0265813516660716.
  2. Navickas, L., Olszewska, A., & Mantadelis, T. (2016, June). CLASS: Contemplative landscape automated scoring system. In Control and Automation (MED), 2016 24th Mediterranean Conference on (pp. 1180-1185). IEEE.
Virtual Healthy Environments (VHE)

Research shows that what we are exposed to passively during the day in the course of our live can have a tremendous impact on our mental health and wellbeing. It is also demonstrated by the research that the exposures to the urban built-up environments is detrimental to our health, and exposure to certain types of natural landscapes can do wonders for our ability to restore our attention, decrease stress levels, improve the cognitive functions, productivity, creative performance and even strengthen the social bonds.

In the urban life there is not much time left for the daily exposures to natural environments, and even if one would visit contemplative parks everyday, in many northern countries, it is usually very gray and cold for large portion of the year. There are also groups of people, in hospitals, nursing homes etc who simply cannot walk out to the park.

Having all these in mind NeuroLandscape is working on the virtually-enabled interventions called VHE, and tested in the real life and lab settings. We are still working on it, but we believe that soon our first products will be released and available for public.