Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Attention, green stuff!

You are sitting at your desk, staring at some spreadsheets you are trying to summarise in a short text. But your gaze keeps wandering out of the window, your thoughts move away from the numbers, you recall what you did last weekend, you start listing what groceries you need to get later on. Stop! Concentrate! You force your thoughts back to the spreadsheet, but only a few minutes later, they are wandering around again. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, go to the closest market garden and buy yourself some plants. Yes, you read correctly: plants.

Ruth K.Raanaas, Katinka Horgen Evensen, Gunn Sjøstrøm, and GretePatil from the Norwegian Universityof Life Sciences, Ås, Norway, and Debra Rich from Cornell University, Ithaca, USA found that indoor plants (no matter whether they are foliage plants or flowers) can prevent fatigue during attention demanding work. In their study, they gave students a proof-reading and a reading span task (in which sentences have to be read aloud and the last word of each sentence has to be remembered). Half of them were in an office with, the other half in one without indoor plants. The former improved their performance on the task, the latter did not.

The original article was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, and there is a summary of the study in the Scientific American.

Thus, indoor plants help us prevent fatigue during attention demanding work. This is because looking at the plants restores our attention. Intentionally drawing it to one single task for a certain time requires effort. Our directed attention has a limited capacity. Looking at plants, on the other hand, is the natural thing for our brain because this is what we did when we were hunters and gatherers. Doing this helps our cognitive system recover from the effort and thus restores our attention. Therefore, it makes sense to arrange some plants in our offices. The positive side effect: the office looks much nicer.

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