2. Objective and Methodology
- First, a literature review is performed to understand biophilia, biophilic design, related health theories, categories, and the patterns of biophilic design.
- Next, VEs, their features, classification, experiential design in VE, and their applications are studied.
- Then, a review of studies investigating the applications of virtual natural environment, including mediated and simulated environments, are presented. In this step, applied methods and key factors of existing research are highlighted and major parameters for natural environment and biophilic design studies in VE are identified.
- Finally, based on above reviews, contributing factors to design biophilic environment experience are identified, and the status, applications, capabilities, and limitations of VEs for biophilic design, as well as the future research directions are presented.
3. Biophilia and Biophilic Design
3.1. Biophilic Design for Outdoor/Exterior and Indoor Environments
3.2. Biophilia and Health Theories
- Attention Restoration Theory (ART): a theory refers to a cognitive framework concentrating on the recovery of directed attention fatigue [14,52]. To illustrate, directed attention is very demanding, and attentional fatigue can happen after completing difficult tasks and facing environmental stimulation (e.g., traffic, advertisement, etc.). Directed attention fatigue may result in failure to recognize interpersonal cues and inability to plan. Based on ART, dealing with environments with fascinating triggers (e.g., natural settings) captures involuntary attention and can restore directed attention and cognitive recourses. Fascinating stimuli refer to elements or events that grab an individual’s attention effortlessly , which may affect a person in positive “soft fascination” or negative way “hard fascination”. From this point forward, fascination is used instead of soft fascination, which triggers human attention effortlessly and provides a pleasant experience for humans. ART suggests that natural environments are restorative environments because they capture involuntary attention. As a result, it is expected that individual performs required tasks directed to attention better after exposure to restorative environments. Besides fascination, there are three other key characteristics for a restorative environment, as stated by ART. They include “being away” (psychological or physical escape form routine environment), “coherence” (perceiving elements as a coherent picture), and “compatibility” (compatibility of environment’s attributes and person’s expectations) .
- Stress Recovery Theory (SRT): a psycho-evolutionary theory proposed by Ulrich  suggests that non-threatening natural environments are restorative environments and provide a more positive emotional state and decrease physiological arousal. Based on SRT, humans prefer natural environment evolution. Engaging with pleasant environment results in reducing stress by improving physiological responses and positive emotions as well as controlling negative emotions and thoughts.
3.3. Biophilic Design Patterns and Categories
4. Virtual Environments
4.1. Immersion and Presence
- Technology factors, including sensory and realism factors , such as multimodal information consistency  and presentation, environmental richness, information consistency with objective world, sense realism , meaningfulness of media content  and ease of navigation and equipment comfort .
- Social factors, which is the interaction between users and technology .
4.2. Presence and Experiential Design in VE
- Sensory dimension: all sensory inputs generated through hardware and software.
- Cognitive dimension: different types of task engagement or mental engagement related to participant’s motivation, task meaningfulness, and continuity.
- Affective dimension: an effective mimic of user’s emotional state in the VEs, same as the real-world environment.
- Active dimension: the degree of personal relation and connection to VE, scenario, and other avatars
- Relational dimension: experience related to co-presence and social presence.
4.3. Classification of VR Systems
- Non-immersive systems: this category is the basic type of VR systems and can be employed without any special input or output devices. Non-immersive systems provide the least immersion presented by 3D graphics and are screen-based and pointer- driven . With non-immersive systems, users are able to interact with VE through computer screens, but not immersed in it .
- Partially immersive systems: this group includes enhanced systems that improve user’s immersion. They display VE on a large screen via a single projector . They support partial body tracking or 3D experience of scenes through special gloves or special goggles, respectively.
- Fully immersive systems: the ultimate version of VR systems supports stereoscopic views of a scene . Binocular head-based, such as Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), and room-based VR technology, such as Cave Automatic Virtual Environments (CAVEs), are subcategories of fully immersive systems.
4.4. Sensation and VE Sensory Input
4.5. Applications of VE in AEC
5. A Review of Virtual Natural Environment Studies
5.1. Review and Classification of Studies in Virtual Natural Environment
- Biophilic categories: this includes three major categories; natural elements, natural analogues, and experience of place and space.
- Biophilic patterns: patterns are summarized in Table 1 based on Kellert and Browning’s studies [7,55,56,57,58], which includes: “visual and non-visual connection with nature” , light, thermal and airflow variability , natural material, “natural shapes and forms, natural patterns and processes, as well as evolved human–nature and place-based relationship” .
- Biological responses: biological responses related to natural environment are “stress reduction”, “cognitive performance”, and “emotion, mood, and preference” .
- Collected data and measurements: physiological data, psychological data, cognitive data, and VE validation data. Types of tests and tasks that are carried out in the studies for data collection are provided in Table A2.
- Subjects: based on nature-health relations, subjects in the studies may be healthy or patient.
- Stress or mental fatigue induction: stress-inducing tasks may deploy as stressor before, during, or after exposure to natural environment. However, in some studies, mental fatigue induction tasks are considered according to research interest. Stress induction or mental fatigue tasks can be part of the design to assess biological responses in relation to potential stress recovery or restoration effects of virtual natural settings. Therefore, the Subfactors include pre-exposure, peri-exposure, post exposure, and none.
- Natural environment settings: based on reviewed studies, the subfactors are biophilic indoor environment, biophilic outdoor environment, urban green space or streetscape, and wild natural environments (such as a forest).
- Delivery mode of virtual nature: this can be either simulated or mediated environment . Therefore, the delivery mode is classified to virtual 3D model, 360° video, 2D video, 360° photo, and static image.
- VE systems: VE systems are categorized into fully immersive (HMDs or CAVEs), partially immersive (projectors), non-immersive (screens), and none.
- VE presence: the studies are either single-user or multi-user system.
- Sensory inputs: sensory inputs include visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and thermal stimuli and wind.
- Research design: the design of research includes total settings/contexts and total conditions.
- Natural environment presentation: the subcategories are reality vs. virtual environment and virtual vs. virtual environment.
- Sample size: sample size of studies is categorized to less than 20, 20–50, 51–100, and over 100.
- Duration of exposure to each condition: the subcategories are less than 10 min, 10–20 min, 21–60 min, more than one hour, and more than to one day.
- Total duration of each session: total duration of each session is less than two hours, more than two hours, or more than one day.
5.2. Analysis and Discussion of Reviewed Literature
- Biophilic categories and patterns: among three major categories of biophilic design, natural elements are utilized the most (100%). Natural elements followed by natural analogues are easier to understand and implement compared to the experience of place and space. Thus, it might be the reason for such a pattern. For biophilic indoor environments, natural elements and natural analogues are common categories. Natural analogous has been explored, especially in most recent studies (2019 and 2020). Regarding biophilic patterns, the three most reported patterns are visual connection with nature (100%), light (84%), and followed by non-visual connection with nature (53.6%). In some studies, the authors consider wild natural environments, such as forest or coast, as their natural setting. In these studies, visual connection with nature and light are common biophilic patterns. Depending on research interests, there might be some non-visual connection with nature, including nature sounds (e.g., birds tweeting sound, breeze, etc.) or natural odors (e.g., forest, flowers, etc.). In addition, some studies consider evolved human–nature relationship pattern (13%), specifically prospect, and refuge features [23,119,124,126,135]. Figure 1 shows the distribution of reviewed studies based on biophilic patterns.
- Biological responses: all three responses, “stress reduction”, “cognitive performance”, as well as “emotion, mood, and performance,” have been studies based on research domain and interest. Attention restoration and/or stress recovery theories are studied in most of the reviewed literature. According to health-related theories discussed in Section 3.2, psychophysiological responses to natural settings are emphasized by SRT, while cognitive responses are highlighted by ART. Based on the literature, emotion, mood, and performance (73.6%) as well as stress reduction (71%) are the most reported biological responses and there is less research on cognitive performance (34.2%).
- Collected data: psychological data is the most reported collected data (86.8%) among the reviewed literature. Some researchers also collect physiological data (60.5%) to validate responses and results. Cognitive data is the least reported collected data (34.2%). The distribution of reviewed literature based on biological responses and collected data is illustrated in Figure 2.
- Measurements: there is a wide range of methods, tests, and tasks for data collection. Recording heart rate (HR) is the most reported measurement method for physiological data. Moreover, heart rate variability (HRV), skin conductance level (SCL), and/or blood pressure (BP) have been utilized in many studies. For psychological data related to emotion, mood, and performance, several types of self-rated questionnaires are used. The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS) are the most reported standard psychological measurements. PANAS assesses participant’s mood [142,144] and the PRS is a four-factor model that evaluates the restorative quality of environment through four elements of ART [145,146]. Regarding cognitive data, several quizzes and tests are reported. One of the cognitive tests is the Attention Network Test (ANT), which measures attentional performance of individuals in a single integrated task through alerting, orienting, and executive control [147,148]. In addition to ANT, reaction time tests, working memory tests, Stroop task, Droodle task, and Compatibility task are some examples of cognitive tests and tasks that have been employed in the reviewed literature. In some VE research, there are also VE-related measurements, including the Igroup Presence Questionnaire (IPQ), VE system ease of usability and navigation , and the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire (SSQ) .
- Subjects: although there are many studies on patients with mental disease in the psychology and therapy domain, this reviewed literature is focused on healthy subjects. Except in  (patients with substance use disorder),  (patients with cognitive or physical impairments), and  (patients with stress and/or burnout syndrome), other studies involved healthy users (92%). It is noteworthy that although Gerber et al.  studied healthy patients in an intensive care unit (ICU), he proposed that VR stimulation in ICU can also be possible and beneficial for critically ill patients.
- Stress or mental fatigue induction: since many studies worked on natural environments as restorative environments, different types of stress or mental fatigue inducting tasks are utilized pre- (44.7%), peri- (21%), or post (26.3%) exposure to the natural environment. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) [124,130,136], Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT) , and various arithmetic tests [34,113,133,140] are examples of stress inducing tasks to stimulate user’s stress level. TSST is a widely used protocol that triggers participant’s social stress in laboratory settings , and PASAT consists of a couple of questions pertaining to mental mathematic calculation skills . In addition, some physical stress inducting tasks, including cold pressor task and undergoing dental treatment as a stressor , are reported in the literature. Besides research that studied cognitive performance, some studies used cognitive tests only as a stressor to create mental fatigue in subjects in the pre-restoration part (e.g., [34,123,133]).
- Natural environment setting/context: wild natural scenes, such as forest environment, which may include diverse foliage, birds singing, and various smells, are considered as natural environment settings in many of the reviewed literature (68.4%). Urban green spaces, e.g., public parks in urban context, is also considered in some studies (l8.4%, e.g., [21,23,123,125]). In the design domain, natural environment settings are mostly biophilic indoor environments (18.4%, e.g., [31,32,33,34]) or biophilic outdoor environments (less than 5%, e.g., )
- Delivery mode: various delivery modes have been employed, including virtual 3D model (34.2%), 2D videos (28.9%), 360° video (23.7%), static image (10.5%), and 360° photo (7.9%). The 2D and 360° videos are the most reported delivery modes because they are not only realistic but also are easier to get prepared for test compared to virtual 3D models. However, since 2010, simulated restorative environments also has attracted special attentions. Figure 3 illustrates the distribution of reviewed literature based on their delivery mode.
- VE system: depending on delivery mode, utilized VE systems are different. For virtual 3D models, 360° videos, and 360° photos, scholars mostly used fully immersive VE (58%) that provides the most immersive experience for participants. However, few studies employ non-immersive VE (8%) for 3D models, 360° videos, or 360° photos, which requires the least equipment, and can be presented through normal screens. In addition, many studies use 2D video (fixed-angle from one point of view) or static image delivery mode. Since these delivery modes do not provide an immersive experience for users, normal plasma screens are sufficient as a VE system. This VE system is classified as the “none” category, which is employed considerably (39.5%) due to the accessibility of this group.
- VE presence: VE studies are classified into single-user and multi-user based on the number of VE participants that share the same experience . Reviewed literature shows that the single-user system is much more common (100%) in this domain. No research study with a multi-user system for biophilic design in VEs has been found.
- Sensory inputs: as expected, visual stimuli are the major sensory inputs in reviewed studies. In addition, auditory stimuli (55.2%), followed by olfactory cues (10.5%, e.g., [123,125,137,139]), tactile (less than 3%, ), thermal, and wind (less than 3%, ), are considered in researches. Generally, study on various sensory inputs especially draw attention in the psychology and informatics domain.
- Research design: based on research interest, scholars design different settings and conditions for their study. Most studies (about 79%) consider one or two major settings and design various conditions based on that. For example, Tabrizian et al.  study 18 different conditions to evaluate design elements. On the other hand, some researchers focus on only one setting and study factors, such as natural elements of the environment , immersion , VE interaction , sensory inputs .
- Natural elements presentations: since the literature review focuses on virtual natural environments, different research conditions and natural elements are presented and studied in virtual format (3D model, video, or photograph, 76.3%). There are also some research studies that explore natural elements presentation in virtual environment vs. actual natural environment (reality) (21%, e.g., [22,31,33]).
- Sample size: most research considers a small size sample (20–100) (71%). Few studies design the research for less than 20 (15.8%) or over 100 (13%) samples.
- Duration of exposure to each condition: although exposures of longer than 10 min are recommended for change in restorativeness , there are many studies with an exposure of fewer than 10 min (52.6%) to the natural environment. Overall, the literature shows that a 20-min exposure to natural elements is effective for restoration and human biological reactions. Therefore, most of the reviewed studies consider an exposure of up to 20 min (92.1%) to each condition for biophilic studies. However, based on a recent study , the impact of exposure to the biophilic environment on physiological responses is immediate, especially in the first four minutes of exposure. Figure 4 highlights the distribution of reviewed literature based on duration of exposure to each condition as well as employed sensory inputs and sample size.
- The total duration of each session: the total duration of each session is mostly less than two hours (94.7%). However, there are some studies (e.g., ), especially in the psychology domain, which investigate the individual’s performance and biological responses under real circumstance over several weeks or months.
6. Design Biophilic Environment Experience in VE: Applications, Capabilities, and Limitations
- Sensory dimension: although most of the biophilic studies in VE focus on visual stimuli as single sensory input (see Table A4), adding other sensory modalities (e.g., auditory, haptic, olfactory, thermal) improves the user’s VE experience  and affect biological responses to natural settings [123,139].
- Cognitive dimension: it comprises different types of task engagement or mental engagement in the VE experiment , which provides an opportunity to apply the ART theory. This dimension allows studying individual’s cognitive framework and task performance after exposure to biophilic environment. Participant’s cognitive performance can be measured by validated cognitive tests (e.g., PRS, ANT).
- Affective dimension: it supports the simulation of the user’s emotional state in virtual biophilic environments similar to real-world situations . For example, based on the ART theory, elements of “soft fascination” such as wind breezes can create an affectively positive experience , which may be replicated in VE. The affective dimension in VE can be assessed by different physiological (e.g., HR, SCL, BP) and psychological (e.g., PANAS) measurements.
- Active dimension: it refers to personal connections with the surroundings (biophilic elements and patterns). An individual’s background and past experience, such as childhood experience of nature, can also have an impact on personal connection to biophilic elements and nature .
- Technical factors: immersion and realism.
- User factors: they include mood, age, and familiarity with technology. For example, Weech et al.  discussed that people with more gaming experience indicated partially a higher level of presence in VE. Other studies showed that older participants experienced greater difficulties when mismatch or incorrect visual sensory stimuli existed , which also had an impact on participants’ mobility and balance . Moreover, there are some additional factors related to users that impact biophilia studies in VEs:
- Gender: this factor has not been studied in-details in literature. However, some studies demonstrated that participants had different responses to biophilic elements based on their gender. For example, Yin et al.  showed that during their experiment, female participants spent more time on biophilic elements in VE.
- Childhood experience of nature: the literature suggests that childhood experience of nature is related to an individual’s meaningful relationship with nature and natural environments . This also may affect the perception of the restorative effect of the natural environment . Therefore, it can result in the increase of calming effects of nature for those persons and more motivation to engage with natural elements . In virtual biophilic environment exposure, Yin et al.  also found that individuals growing up in rural or suburban areas spent more time engaging with natural and biophilic elements.
- Individual preferences, as well as differences in perception and cognition: based on information processing theory , a perception system creates meaningful representations of numerous sensory stimuli in the external environment and organizes psychological apprehension. On the other hand, the ART theory suggests that the cognitive resources of people can be restored by interacting with attractive stimuli of natural settings . However, individual differences may impact his or her perception and cognition processes, i.e., the way individuals perceive an environment and biophilic stimuli; and, consequently, the potential of the VE’s restorativeness .
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|Literature||Biophilic Categories and Patterns||Biological Responses||Collected Data|
|Natural Elements||Natural Analogues||Experience of Place and Space||Stress Reduction||Emotion, Mood and Preference||Cognitive Performance||Physiological Data||Psychological Data||Cognitive Data|
|Visual||Non-Visual||Light||Thermal and Airflow||Material||Shapes and Forms||Patterns and Processes||Human–Nature||Place-Based|
|Physiological Data||Psychological or Cognitive Data||VE Validation Data|
|||heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), skin conductance level (SCL), blood pressure (BP)||State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)|
|||HR||Working memory tests (Cog: color and shape); Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) (mood),||Igroup Presence Questionnaire (IPQ)|
|||SCL||PANAS (mood), perceived restorativeness scale (PRS) (restorativeness), DSS, EBS (disgust and beauty of nature)|
|||Summary of Positive and Negative Experiences (SPANE) (mood), Multidimensional State Boredom Scale (MSBS) (boredom), Inclusion of Nature in Self Scale (INS)||Presence and Judgment Questionnaire|
|||HR||PANAS (mood), Overall mood assessment|
|||STAI (anxiety), Music in Dementia Assessment Scales (MiDAS) (mood), Observation||VE Experience Questionnaire|
|||BP; HR; HRV; SCL||Cog: Stroop test (color-word); Guilford’s Alternative Uses (AU test); Eye tracking; PSY: self-reported preference to biophilic patterns|
|||NSR (pleasantness of window view); PRS; Nitsch’s Personal State Scale (mood, fatigue, and arousal)|
|||HR, BP, Salivary Amylase||Brief Profile of Mood States (BPOMS)|
|||HR, HRV, SCL||Digit Span Backwards (DSB), Necker Cube Pattern Control (NCPC) (attention and memory)|
|||Electroencephalogram (EGG)||Profile of Mood States (POMS-SF) (stress), Cog: Stroop color task|
|||PANAS, 8 Emotion||ITC- Sense of Presence Inventory (ITC-SOPI)|
|||HR; SCL; BP||Cog: visual reaction time task; visual backward digit span task; Stroop task; PSY: self-reported emotion changes|
|||walking speed; HR;||Perceived Environmental Restorativeness (PER); Physical Activity Affect Scale (PAAS); Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE); enjoyment scale; perceived motivational effect; open-ended questions||Presence scale|
|||Systolic Blood Pressure (SBP); HR; Salivary α amylase activity (activity of the sympathetic nervous system)||POMS (profile of mood state)|
|||PRS; Perceived Safety (PS)|
|||Stress and emotion: HRV; salivary cortisol||STAI; PANAS||IPQ (presence); Game Experience Questionnaire (immersion)|
|||Numeric Rating Scale (NRS) for pain experience; McGill Pain Questionnaire (SR-MPQ); NRS recalled pain at 1week follow-up|
|Modified Dental Anxiety Scale (MDAS); NRS pain experience; NRS for stress (From the Profile of Mood States); PRS; NRS recalled pain||SR based on IPQ, reality judgement and presence Q|
|||HRV; HR; Near-Infrared Time-Resolved Spectroscopy (TRS)||Subjective feeling measured with SD method (semantic differential method)|
|||Biophilic Attitudes Inventory (BAI); PANAS; PRS; Cog: Attention Network Test (ANT); Proof Reading Task (PRT); Digit-span test; Compatibility task;|
|||PRS; PANAS; Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-21)|
|||HRV, Electrodermal activity (EDA)||PANAS||Modified Reality Judgement and Presence Questionnaire (MRJPQ)|
|||Vital monitoring system||Cog: use Eye-tracker||IPQ, Presence Questionnaire (PQ), System Usability Scale (SUS), Simulator Sickness Questionnaire (SSQ)|
|||PRS; observation; semi-structured interview|
|||HR, HRV, T-wave amplitude; saliva cortisol; subjective||Short scale (sense of presence)|
|||NSR (Anxiety and Relaxation)||VE System usability (hand-controller and navigation)|
|HR; SCL||NSR (odor and preference)|
|||Cog: Trail Making Task (TMT), Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWA) (attention)|
|Zuckerman Inventory of Personal Reactions (ZIPERS);|
PSY: mental-arithmetic quiz
|||HR; SCL||Cog: Sustain Attention to Response Task (SART);|
ZIPERS; Self Report stress
|Simulator Sickness Questionnaire|
|||Pulse; SBP; DBP||Self-estimated level of current stress; Emotional state test; Stress and energy test (SE); Experienced Deviation from Normal state (EDN); mental fatigue: Syllogism I–II|
|||Semi-structured interview; work satisfaction, office perception, and mood surveys; responses to email queries; journal entries;|
|||HR; IBI;||Camera; PRT; name-a-Droodle’’ task; ‘‘invent-a-Droodle’’ task; ‘‘tin can unusual uses’’ task|
|||PANAS; Cog: backwards digit- span task; ANT|
|||HR (inter beat interval, IBI); SCL||Affect questionnaire based on PANAS and ZIPERS||ITC-SOPI|
|Literature||Subjects||Stress or Mental Fatigue Induction||Natural Environment Setting/ Context|
|Healthy||Patient||Pre-Exposure||Peri-Exposure||Post Exposure||None||Biophilic Indoor Environment||Biophilic Outdoor Environment||Urban Green Space or Streetscape||Wild Nature|
|Literature||Delivery Mode||VE System||VE Presence||Sensory Inputs|
|Simulated||Mediated||Fully Immersive (HMDs or CAVEs)||Partially Immersive, Projectors||Non-Immersive, Screen||None||Single-User System||Multi-User System||Visual||Auditory||Olfactory||Tactile||Thermal and Wind|
|Virtual 3D Model||360° Video||2D Video||360° Photo||Static Image|
|Design||Natural Elements Presentation||Sample Size||Duration of Exposure to Each Condition||Total Duration of Each Session|
|Total Settings/Contexts||Total Conditions||Reality vs. Virtual Environment||Virtual vs. Virtual Environment||Less than 20||20–50||51–100||Over 100||Less than 10 min||10–20 min||21–60 min||More than One Hour||More than One Day||Less than Two Hours||More than Two Hours||More than One Day|
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|Category||Patterns||Description||Elements or Features|
|Natural Elements||Visual Connection with Nature ||View to natural environment and living systems (real or simulated)||Plants|
Habitats and ecosystems
Image of nature
Views and vistas
|Non-Visual Connection with Nature ||Sensory stimuli, except visual, that positively refer to living systems or nature||Smell of Plants|
|Light||Various intensities of real or simulated light and shadow similar to conditions that occur in nature||Natural light and shadow|
|Thermal and Airflow Variability ||Gentle changes in thermal and airflow variables that mimic nature (real or simulated)||Surface temperature|
Airflow (e.g., wind, breeze)
|Natural Analogues||Natural material||Materials and elements from nature||Natural materials|
|Natural Shapes and Forms ||A symbolic reference to forms and shapes that exist in the natural environment||Natural geometries|
|Natural Patterns and Processes ||A symbolic reference to patterns and processes that exist in the natural environment||Growth |
Change and age
Integration of parts to wholes
Central focal point
|Experience of Place and Space||Evolved Human–Nature Relationship ||Spatial configurations in the natural environment. It includes human’s desire to feel and experience beyond surroundings||Refuge and prospect|
Discovery and exploration
Protection and security
Order and complexity
|Place-based Relationship ||Place attachment and individual’s natural for familiar places||Historical, cultural, geographic, or ecological connection to place |
Culture and ecology integration
Landscape features and ecology
Spirit of place
|Parameters of Biophilic Design Studies||General VE Capabilities and Limitations||VE Application for Biophilic Design Studies|
|Biophilic design categories|
Experience of space and place)
|VE has wide applications in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) research for visualization, design review, pre-occupancy evaluation, and decision making (e.g., [25,98,100,102])||Implementing all three categories are reported in the literature (e.g., [32,34,119,124]).|
Natural analogues and experience of space and place are less reported in the literature, but it is technically feasible to implement.
|Biophilic design patterns||VE has wide application for visualization and design review in AEC. Simulating and representing various design elements, forms, and patterns are possible through features of game engines and VE input devices (e.g., [25,82,99,163]).||Generally, some biophilic patterns are less familiar to participants and less explicit to understand and implement compared to others. For example, participants felt more connected with nature in VE setting with natural light, indoor plants, or a view to nature compared to natural material and forms . |
“Natural patterns and processes” is more psychological, required precise design, and less clear to participants than green natural elements or material. Therefore, this biophilic pattern is not reported in the literature; however, technically, there is no challenge for simulating this pattern in VE.
Regarding thermal and airflow patterns, simulation in VE is also possible through thermal panels and climate chambers. Such simulations are reported in energy and occupant behavior studies . However, comprehensive studies regarding thermal and airflow simulation are not reported in biophilic design studies. Therefore, there is potential for further research in this area.
|Collecting human physiological, psychological, and cognitive data is possible in VE, especially in human-related studies. |
For quantifying human’s physiological responses to biophilic environments, there are a variety of wearable bio-monitoring sensors, such as heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure (BP), and skin conductance level (SCL).
In addition, due to technology advancements, researchers can apply eye-tracking technology (e.g., Tobii Pro), which monitors participant’s attention toward specific parts of design during the exposure period (e.g., [26,107]).
Regarding psychological and cognitive measurements in VE, the flexibility of VEs for supporting programming and on-screen surveys allows participants to be immersed in VE while providing answers to various psychological and/or cognitive tests .
On the other hand, a potential issue is the clumsiness of wired devices that can impact VE experiments. Therefore, streamlined apparatus is preferable . Another challenge is that participant’s biological responses and task performance can be affected due to VE platform or display methods . Furthermore, possible cybersickness may also negatively impact the user’s task performance and biological responses.
|Eye-tracking technology in combination with VE and bio-monitoring sensors is an effective research tool for biophilic design .|
|As mentioned above, on-screen tests and programming in VEs enable scholars to create various tests, including mental fatigue tests in VEs. Moreover, increasing stress-inducing tasks is also reported in the literature. For example, VR-Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is a confirmed tool in stress research (e.g., [149,167]).||According to the two fundamental biophilic theories, Attention Restoration Theory (ART) and Stress Recovery Theory (SRT), in many biophilic studies, researchers consider stress induction or mental fatigue through different tests and tasks. VR-TSST is stress inducing task in VE that also has been reported in biophilic studies (e.g., [130,168]). Therefore, VE can create stress induction required for some biophilic studies.|
|Natural environment setting|
(Indoor and outdoor built environment
|The modeling and programming capability of VE software such as Unity and Unreal Engine as well as 360-degree videos or panoramic images of a real environment support researchers to create or represent various natural environmental settings in VE (e.g., [33,34,120,124,135,137]).||Various natural environment settings in VE are reported in the literature, including empirical studies on the indoor environment (e.g., [31,33]), outdoor environment such as shopping mall plaza (e.g., ), large scale urban park (e.g., [23,169]), etc. |
There is a limited number of studies that quantify the physiological and cognitive benefits of indoor biophilic elements and patterns. It is recommended to also apply virtual biophilic environment stimulation to other indoor settings, such as education, housing, recreation, and retail
|VE Sensory inputs|
Thermal and wind)
|VE supports visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile inputs. As mentioned, realistic experience in VE and, consequently, successful application of VE depends on sensory fidelity, auditory, olfactory, and other sensory cues similar to reality . Realistic experience in VE, high level of immersion, and presence are related concepts that have been explored over the years. For example, in , a multimodal VE via visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory stimuli is provided.|
However, technically, there are still limitations for generating auditory output in real-time with dynamic changes , for example. In addition, haptic stimulation is possible but in a restricted domain of applications.
|Diverse combinations of sensory stimuli have been studied for biophilic design in VEs. As mentioned above, non-visual connection with nature is a biophilic design pattern. It is recommended to design for simultaneous visual and non-visual connections to nature , which increase positive health impacts and facilitate stress reduction. Therefore, sensory inputs improve immersion and the individual’s presence in VE, which contributes to biophilia and biophilic design.|
Although there are some research studies with multimodal cues (e.g., [123,125,137,168]), most studies incorporate only auditory and visual cues. To illustrate, an actual biophilic environment like a forest incorporates five senses as well as air, temperature, humidity, etc., while most VE studies only focus on visual and auditory stimulation. Therefore, there are opportunities to stimulate and engage the more senses in VE and further study individuals’ biological responses in relation to biophilic theories, immersion, and presence.
(Single user vs. multi-user)
|Similar results and effects in exposure to virtual vs. actual natural environment are reported in the literature (e.g., [31,92,171]). Under controlled laboratory circumstances, VEs can provide more immersive experiences and more realistic physiological responses, comparing to mediated environments .|
Regarding VE presence, the majority of the studies are designed for a single user, although multi-user experiments are technically possible.
|Empirical studies show consistent biological responses to biophilic design in the real-world and 360-degree video in VE (VE validation) . However, in a study , cognitive performance in biophilic design in VE is not consistent with that in-situ. More studies are required.|
|Subjects and sample size||The sample size in most VE studies are small, e.g., less than 200 . |
Regarding subjects in different domains, scholars have studied participants with a diverse range of ages and backgrounds in VEs.
|To be able to generalize research results to the general population, it is necessary to include a variety of participants with representative samples. For example, individual differences, such as gender, childhood experiences, have an impact on participant’s responses to biophilic environments and biophilic design (e.g., [9,23,32]). Moreover, currently, most research studies include healthy users; there are very few studies on users with physical or cognitive impairment (e.g., [121,122,143,173]). |
More in-depth research is recommended in order to explore virtual biophilic environment’s impact on individuals with different demographic characteristics and backgrounds.
|Exposure duration||VE research studies typically have short experiment sessions to avoid possible issues, such as cybersickness.||Based on empirical research, effective exposure to biophilic environments for stress reduction, positive emotions, and restoration can be 5 to 20 min . Therefore, VE, specifically VR technology, is capable of supporting the required exposure time for effective biophilic studies.|
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