PULLMAN, Wash. — Treat that forgotten Boston fern in the corner of your office with a little more respect. A new study at Washington State University shows for the first time that live interior plants may increase worker productivity and reduce stress.
The study, published in the “Journal of Environmental Horticulture,” reports that productivity increased 12 percent when people performed a simple task on a computer in a room with plants compared with workers who performed the same task in the same room without plants.
The task was stressful. Blood pressure for both groups rose during the task, but only two points for people tested with plants, while it rose four points for people tested without plants. The average blood pressure for both groups before the test was roughly the same.
Additionally, people tested in the presence of plants reported feeling about 10 percent more attentive after the task than those tested without plants.
“We have not been able to find other studies that document worker productivity in the presence of live plants,” said Virginia Lohr, a WSU horticulturist. Her research focuses on the effects of plants on people.
The WSU study was conducted by Lohr; Caroline Pearson-Mims, a research technologist; and Georgia Goodwin, a graduate assistant.
“Since the 1960’s, office planners have claimed that productivity is higher in landscaped offices,” Pearson-Mims said. “It was not clear whether the benefits were from plants or new designs with modern furniture and lighting. We think this study starts to answer that question.”
This experiment was conducted in a university computer laboratory with plants present and absent. Ninety-six university students and employees participated.
Blood pressure and pulse were measured when participants entered the room, midway through the computer task and at the task’s completion. Before and after, participants recorded their feelings in response to such statements as “I feel attentive.”
At the beginning of the experiment both groups reported the same level of attentiveness, but those who were tested in the presence of plants reported feeling more attentive after completing the task, which required some concentration.
People tested in the absence of plants reported no increase in attentiveness.
The productivity task consisted of identifying common symbols that randomly appeared on a computer screen. Participants quickly pressed a key corresponding to each symbol when it appeared. The computer recorded their performance.
“There was no difference in number of errors,” Lohr said. “The big difference was reaction time, how quickly they pressed the correct key when plants were present.”
The researchers can’t explain how plants help people relax and perform better. “There are two major theories I’m aware of that could account for this,” Lohr said. “One relates to reduced blood pressure. A number of studies have documented that plants or nature can lower blood pressure. By somehow causing us to be more relaxed, plants help us be more productive and focused.”
She said other people think that plants may reduce metal fatigue. “One of the things that happens when you suffer mental fatigue is that you no longer are able to make good decisions.”
Lohr said one major study found that walking in a garden helps restore people’s ability to make good decisions.
“Plants are not just fluff,” she said. “We have felt, and many people who work with plants intuitively believe, that having plants around us is vital to our well-being.”
The study was funded by the American Floral Endowment and the Horticultural Research Institute.
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