Plants That Make You Go HMMM
By Rob Sproule
It’s that time of year again where our fancy turns to thoughts of sitting at desks, staring at screens and books, pining to be outdoors. Few things make us appreciate a good hike more than being cooped up inside, serenaded by neon lights, looking out a window.
This year I’ve spent a lot of time writing and thinking about our connections with the natural world. From learning about soil borne fungus that calms our nerves to the instinctual longing for wild spaces at play in Nature Deficit Disorder, I’ve realized that our desire to be around plants isn’t just emotional, it’s physiological.
Putting the fern at the corner of your desk doesn’t just make you feel good, it heightens concentration, boosts attention span, and reduces mental fatigue. In a 2011 Norwegian study, researchers assigned 34 students to either a plain desk or a desk surrounded with foliage and flowers. The latter group performed unmistakably better in reading tests than the former. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494410001027
The learning benefit of plants isn’t a coincidence. Studies like the Norwegian one has been replicated several times since with similar results, and the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. But why?
University of Michigan psychologists’ “attention restoration theory” is the dominant theory of why this happens. The gist is that we spend a lot of energy on what we’re focused on, so much that we get fatigued quickly. A passive distraction, like a plant, indirectly engages our focus and restores it in the process.
We didn’t evolve in offices. The vast majority of our evolutionary history has been spent among plants, with only the past couple centuries separated from them in our daily lives. Blandly coloured, geometrically shaped spaces are unsettling to us on a deep level. The sight and smell of plants relaxes us because it’s engrained in our biological memory.
In Office Spaces:
Savvy businesses are paying attention to a growing mountain of studies pointing to the benefits that plants bring to offices. Contrary to the current trends towards minimalist or “lean” thinking, wherein clarity of space = clarity of mind, plants are the best kind of clutter an office can have.
1 plants for every 3 employees will start to improve the quality of the air in often stuffy cubicles. Tension, stress, fatigue, and angry snappiness around the photocopier are trimmed back. Morale increases and people tend to have a more constructive approach to their work.
The benefits aren’t just psychological. Plants bring physiological pros, like reducing blood pressure, cutting back on sick days, and improving skin quality thanks to better air conditions. Plants even absorb ambient noise and take as much as 5 decibels of keyboard clacking, water-cooler clucking and corner office cussing out of circulation. ( http://www.ciphr.com/blog/plants-in-the-office/
So the next time you’re in the mood to simplify, remember that while simple is good, a bare desk doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be productive there. Something as simple as a small fern (air cleaner), daisy (colourful) or succulent (awesome) can help calm your mind so you can focus on the work that needs to get done.
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