The use of Virtual Reality (VR) to assess the impact of geographical environments on walking and cycling: a systematic literature review


Ghanbari M., Dijst M., McCall R., Perchoux C.


International Journal of Health Geographics, vol. 23, n° 1, art. no. 15, 2024


Background: Geographical environments influence people's active mobility behaviors, contributing to their physical and mental health. The use of Virtual Reality (VR) in experimental research can unveil new insights into the relationship between exposure to geographic environments and active mobility behaviors. This systematic review aims to (1) identify environmental attributes investigated in relation with walking and cycling, using VR, (2) assess their impacts on active mobility behaviors and attitudes, and (3) identify research gaps, strengths and limitations in VR-based experimental research. Methods: Articles published between January 2010 and February 2022 within five databases (PubMed, Scopus, EBSCO, IEEE Xplore, and Cochrane Library) were explored using three keywords and their synonyms: Virtual Reality, Active mobility behavior, and Geographical environments. Studies focusing on indoor environments, driving simulation, disease-specific groups, non-relevant disciplines (e.g. military, emergency evacuation), VR methodology/software optimization, and those with static participants' involvement were excluded. The full protocol is available from PROSPERO (ID = CRD42022308366). Results: Out of 3255 articles, 18 peer-reviewed papers met the selection criteria, mostly focusing on walking (83%). Most studies used head-mounted displays (94%) and relied on convenience sampling (72% below 100 participants). Both static (33%) and dynamic (45%) environmental attributes have been investigated, with only 22% of them simultaneously in the same virtual environment. Greenness and crowd density were the most frequent attributes, rather consistently associated with emotional states and movement behaviors. Few studies have taken into account participant’s previous VR experience (33%) and cybersickness (39%) while both are likely to affect an individual’s perception and behavior. Conclusions: Future research should explore a broader range of environmental attributes, including static and dynamic ones, as well as a more complex integration of these attributes within a single experiment to mimic the effect of realistic environments on people's active mobility behaviors and attitudes. Larger and more diverse population samples are deemed required to improve result generalizability. Despite methodological challenges, VR emerges as a promising tool to disentangle the effect of complex environments on active mobility behaviors.



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