Natural Scene Virtual Reality as a Behavioral Health Countermeasure in Isolated, Confined, and Extreme Environments: Three Isolated, Confined, Extreme Analog Case Studies.
INTRODUCTION: Isolated, confined, extreme (ICE) environments are accompanied by a host of stress-inducing circumstances: operational pressure, interpersonal dynamics, limited communication with friends and family, and environmental hazards. We evaluated the effectiveness of attention-restoration-therapy-based immersive Virtual Reality (VR) in three ICE environments: the Canadian Forces Station-Alert (CFS Alert), the 12-month HI-SEAS IV expedition, and the 8-month HI-SEAS V expedition. METHODS: Thirty-one individuals (29 male, 2 female) at CFS Alert, and 12 total crewmembers (7 male, 5 female, six crewmembers per sessions) at HI-SEAS participated. All participants viewed immersive VR scenes, but scene content varied by deployment. Data collection included pre- and post-intervention surveys and semi-structured post-mission interviews. Survey data were analyzed by scene content within each analog using nonparametric approaches. RESULTS: Acceptability and desirability of the VR content varied significantly by ICE analog, as well as by participants within a given analog. The two initial exploratory protocols enabled a more directed study in HI-SEAS V to identify the importance of differences in scene content. DISCUSSION: Use and perceived utility of the VR varied considerably across participants, indicating that psychological support needs to be individualized. Overall, natural scene VR was broadly considered restorative, but after long periods of isolation, dynamic and familiar scenes including those with people were also appealing. Immersive, nature-based VR was highly valued by some, but not all participants, suggesting that this intervention tool holds promise for use in ICE settings but needs to be tailored to the setting and individual.