There are Web cams focused on falcons, ferrets and fish, virtual tours of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, and robotic dogs, seals and even dinosaurs. But what about the real deal: observing animals in their natural habitat, hiking the John Muir Trail or a playing with a live pet?
Modern technology increasingly is encroaching into human connections with the natural world and University of Washington psychologists believe this intrusion may emerge as one of the central psychological problems of our times.
"We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives," said Peter Kahn, a UW developmental psychologist and lead author of a new study exploring how humans connect with nature and technological nature.
Writing in the current issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, Kahn and two of his UW graduate students, Rachel Severson and Jolina Ruckert, look at the psychological effects of interacting with various forms of technological nature and explore humanity's growing estrangement from nature.
The UW researchers cite earlier experiments conducted by Kahn's laboratory, one with a plasma display "window" and several with AIBO, a robotic dog.
The plasma window study showed that people recovered better from low-level stress by looking at an actual view of nature rather than seeing the same real-time high-definition television scene displayed on a plasma window.
"What do we compare technology to? If we compare it to no nature, technological nature works pretty well. But if we compare it to actual nature, it doesn't seem to provide as many psychological benefits," Kahn said.
The AIBO studies showed that children were in some ways were treating the robots as other beings But compared to interacting with a real dog, their interactions with AIBO were not as social or deep.
"Robot and virtual pets are beginning to replace children's
|Contact: Joel Schwarz|
University of Washington