Biophelia: a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature.
There’s this idea called the Biophelia Hypothesis. It suggests that we humans have an innate desire to connect with nature and other forms of life[i]. This is the supposed reason behind why having plants around us has so many benefits. Plants in the home and work place have not only been shown to increase air quality, but they have also been related to increased feelings of positivity, levels of productivity, attention span, and decreased levels of stress, both mentally and physically.
Let’s look more in depth about how having nature around us can benefit us, as well as some practical ways to place them, the best plants for air quality, and how to keep them alive!
A research study by NASA has shown that certain plants have the ability to remove toxins out of the air[ii]. With all plants tested, there were significant reductions of benzene and formaldehyde, both of which are known carcinogens, among other negative health effects, such as immune system toxicity and bone marrow abnormalities[iii],[iv],[v],[vi].
Poor air quality can also cause asthmatic symptoms. Another study showed that when indoor plants were placed in the environment, the amount of pollutants in the air decreased and changed the health condition of asthmatics for the better[vii]. Although the study cannot show that it was for sure the plants that caused this change, the relationship gives convincing evidence that having them in the home helps with breathing-related health challenges.
Indoor air can also contain flame retardants, heavy metals, pesticides and other pollutants, which is why using plants as a filtration system is an easy, affordable way to help keep your air fresh and clean! Plants do this one of two ways – they break down toxic chemicals and release by-products that are harmless, or they actually incorporate heavy metals into their plant tissue, isolating them there[viii].
To get the most out of plants when trying to better air quality, you should use multiple species of houseplants, since houseplants vary in the types of chemicals they are able to remove. Later I’ll share with you the best plants for increased air quality, but for now, let’s keep learning about the benefits! And oh my, there are so many!
Feelings of Positivity
As you can see, plants are beneficial for physical health, but research has also shown that interacting with them and having them around may be beneficial for mental and emotional health as well!
One study separated participating men into two groups, one working on a computer task, the others working on a transplanting task for a total of 15 minutes. There was no significant difference in feelings before the task, but afterwards, the transplanting subjects felt comfortable, natural and soothed, whereas the computer subjects felt uncomfortable, awakened, and artificial[ix]. The group working with the plants also experienced significantly lower blood pressure as well.
Now this was a smaller study, but other studies have pointed to benefits also, such as turning an office into a green work space with plants. Employees in offices with plants showed a more positive orientation to their work environment. The employees whose lean offices were filled with plants in the study showed increased satisfaction at work, improved perceived air quality, and increased self-reported levels of concentration[x].
They even saw a decrease in complaints of tiredness, coughing, and other health related issues in hospital workers when they added plants to their work environment[xi].
All this suggests that green offices could lead to a more engaged, positive, and concentrated work force as well as increased positivity in homes with plants present.
Certain plant aromas can also help with inducing calmness, relaxation, and promoting better sleep. For example, placing lavender or jasmine flowers by the bed can be beneficial if getting enough quality sleep is a problem for you. They have been known to decrease anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate, and lavender is often used as a natural remedy for insomnia[xii],[xiii],[xiv].
Attention Span and Productivity
The addition of plants to homes and the workplace has also been tested for increased attention span and productivity. Another study tested room arrangements (a room with a plant, a room with a magazine rack in front of participants, or neither in room) for effect on task performance and mood. Women in the plant room performed better on the task and their mood was better[xv].
Another study found that workers in an office with four indoor plants had three times the attention span performing a demanding cognitive task compared to non-plant room participants[xvi].
The amount of plants may also increase perceptions of performance! It was shown that the higher number of plants in an office correlated to higher self-perceptions of performance, as well as self-reported higher levels of mood, perceived comfort when plants were present, and perceived office attractiveness[xvii].
Again, these studies are correlational, as other factors can contribute to increased attention span and productivity. But for me, the compounding research convinces me that plants are absolutely beneficial in the home and work place.
What Types of Plants to Use for These Benefits
When it comes to air pollutant removal, B.C. Wolverton, the principle investigator for the NASA study, published his findings of 30+ years of research in his book “How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office.” He lists plants in order of effectiveness, taking into account ease of growth, toxin removal, and a few other factors. Assuming they are used in a typical home, here is a list of the top 10[xviii]:
As far as plants for increased positivity, attention span, and productivity, there was no specific plant that stood out in the studies. In fact, often a variety of plants were used.
I would suggest choosing plants that you LIKE to look at and smell! I’m personally a succulent person…I LOVE THEM! They are low maintenance and cute, so they work well for me. I like having those around, but mixing them with a variety of air-cleaning plants in the home would be best for optimal health.
I hope that this was eye opening about the benefits of having plants in your home and workspace. If you’ve never had plants in the home, it is easy to youtube or google how to take care of the specific plants you get. If you kill them off, don’t fret! Just try a new plant that is easier to care for. There is no wrong way to do it. Go for organic plants when possible but even non-organic will likely be better than none.
Share below what kind of plants you love having in your home or work space! If you don’t have one yet, what one would you like to add?
[i] Gullone, Eleonora. “The Biophilia Hypothesis and Life in the 21st Century: Increasing Mental Health or Increasing Pathology?” SpringerLink, Kluwer Academic Publishers, link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1010043827986.
[ii] Wolverton BC, et al. Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. Final Report––September 15, 1989. Stennis Space Center, MS:Science and Technology Laboratory, John C. Stennis Space Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1989), https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930072988.pdf.
[iii] “Environmental Toxins: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 6 May 2015, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-environmental-toxin.
[v] “Safe Household Cleaners: Choosing Safer Cleaners for Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 24 July 2017, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-safe-cleaners.
[vi] Cogliano, Vincent James, et al. “Meeting Report: Summary of IARC Monographs on Formaldehyde, 2-Butoxyethanol, and 1-Tert-Butoxy-2-Propanol.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Sept. 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1280402/.
[vii] Kim, Ho-Hyun, et al. “House-Plant Placement for Indoor Air Purification and Health Benefits on Asthmatics.” Environmental Health and Toxicology, The Korean Society of Environmental Health and Toxicology, 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258716/.
[ix] Lee, Min-sun, et al. “Interaction with Indoor Plants May Reduce Psychological and Physiological Stress by Suppressing Autonomic Nervous System Activity in Young Adults: a Randomized Crossover Study.” Journal of Physiological Anthropology, BioMed Central, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4419447/.
[x] Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014, July 28). The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication. http://api.ning.com/files/bdG71GPfFwEZkZnscc5LCuuTqpc85R9OQYrKGF7cW0yNbh*bnc4e7jyar9Xp2PHVMmfeBQdYAZ8G8BdcofspI8OE8wIzljeJ/2014GreenvsLeanOffices1.pdf.
[xi] Grinde, Bjørn, and Grete Grindal Patil. “Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being?” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI), Sept. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760412/.
[xii] “Intoxicating Fragrance: Jasmine as Valium Substitute.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 9 July 2010, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100708104320.htm.
[xiii] Koulivand, Peir Hossein, et al. “Lavender and the Nervous System.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/.
[xiv] Sayorwan, W, et al. “The Effects of Lavender Oil Inhalation on Emotional States, Autonomic Nervous System, and Brain Electrical Activity.” Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet Thangphaet., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22612017.
[xv] Shibata, S, and N Suzuki. “Effects of an Indoor Plant on Creative Task Performance and Mood.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15535806.
[xvi] Raanaas, Ruth, et al. “Benefits of Indoor Plants on Attention Capacity in an Office Setting.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, Academic Press, 10 Dec. 2010, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494410001027?via%3Dihub.
[xvii] Larsen, Larissa, et al. “Plants in the Workplace.” Environment and Behavior, Sage Journals, 1 May 1998, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001391659803000301.
[xviii] Claudio, Luz. “Planting Healthier Indoor Air.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Oct. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230460/figure/d32e164/.