The mere sight of an indoor plant can reduce stress in office workers, according to a new study.

While it has been assumed that plant life is soothing to those required to regularly face stressful or mundane situations, the new study “scientifically verifies” the degree of psychological and physiological impact induced by indoor plants, the researchers noted.

Researchers Masahiro Toyoda, Yuko Yokota, Marni Barnes, and Midori Kaneko at the University of Hyogo in Awaji, Japan, explored the practical use of indoor plants to boost mental health among employees typically removed from exposure to healthy green environments. Rather than conducting experiments in a laboratory setting, the researchers calculated stress reduction on employees in real office settings.

“At present, not so many people fully understand and utilize the benefit of stress recovery brought by plants in the workplace,” said Toyoda. “To ameliorate such situations, we decided it essential to verify and provide scientific evidence for the stress restorative effect by nearby plants in a real office setting.”

The researchers recruited 63 office workers in Japan for the study. The workers were directed to take a 3-minute rest while sitting at their desks when they felt fatigue.

There were two phases of the study: A control period without plants and an intervention period when the participants were able to see and care for a small plant. The researchers measured psychological stress in the employees using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory in both phases of the study. The ratio of the workers whose pulse rate lowered significantly after a 3-minute rest interacting with their desk plant proved definitive, according to the study’s findings.

Participants were offered a choice of six different types of plants to keep on their desks: Air plants, bonsai plants, san pedro cactus, foliage plants, kokedama, or echeveria. Each participant chose one of the six types of small indoor plants and placed it near the PC monitor on their desk.

Both passive and active involvement with plants in the workplace were considered for their contribution to mitigation of stress and fatigue, the researchers noted.

The employees were provided routine visual access to plants by having their choice of plant situated conveniently on their desks (a passive involvement with plants). They also had the opportunity to care for their plant (an active involvement with plants). The researchers also considered that intentionally gazing at the plant was an active interaction with plants that office workers could do quickly and easily at their desks.

The calming effects calculated during the study showed that anxiety decreased significantly when the plant was on the workers’ desks.

The results did not skew when looking at the data within the various age groups of the workers or with different plant selections. The researchers suggest that placing small plants within close sight contributed to psychological stress reduction across the board.

The researchers suggest that small indoor plants could be economical and helpful in efforts to improve office conditions for employees.

The study was published in the open access journal HortTechnology by the American Society for Horticultural Science.

Source: American Society for Horticultural Science