Research Article

Stress recovery from virtual exposure to a brown (desert) environment versus a green environment

Publication Date:

Authors: Jie Yin, Gregory N. Bratman, Matthew H.E.M. Browning, John Spengler and Hector A. Olvera-Alvarez


The beneficial association between nature contact and human health is often explained with psycho-evolutionary frameworks such as stress reduction theory and the savanna hypothesis. However, evidence is limited on how natural environments that are not green affect stress. One example is the desert, which does not offer affordances for nourishment or safety in an evolutionary sense. In this study, we determine the effect of a virtual reality (VR) exposure to a desert vs. green environment among 95 healthy adult male residents of El Paso, Texas. The procedure consisted of an acute stressor followed by random assignment to a 10 min VR experience (desert, green space, or office [control condition]) and a 40 min resting period. Participants in the desert condition showed significant reductions in salivary cortisol compared to participants in the office. Participants in the desert condition showed decreases in mean arterial pressure compared to participants in the control condition. Collectively, these findings suggest that factors beyond those proposed by psycho-evolutionary frameworks such as lived experiences and familiarity with landscapes may play a role in the health benefits of nature exposure.