Nature's Healing Power: How Viewing Real Plants Reduces Stress and Promotes Relaxation

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A new study finds that viewing real plants, compared to artificial plants, photographs of plants, or no plants, leads to increased physiological relaxation and stress reduction as measured by EEG brain activity and self-reported mood. The findings suggest that incorporating live plants into indoor environments can provide therapeutic mental health benefits.

In today's urbanized world, people are increasingly isolated from nature, and that disconnection may come at a cost to mental wellbeing. But a new study suggests a simple solution--just looking at real plants can measurably reduce stress and instill a sense of calm and comfort.

The research, conducted by Ji-Eun Jeong and Sin-Ae Park of Konkuk University in South Korea, examined the physiological and psychological effects of viewing four different plant stimuli: real plants, artificial plants, photographs of plants, and no plants.1 The results, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, provide compelling evidence that visual exposure to living plants offers unique therapeutic benefits.

To measure the effects, the researchers recruited 30 adults in their 20s and used EEG to record their brain activity while they looked at each type of plant stimuli for 5 minutes.2 The participants also completed questionnaires rating their mood and emotional state after each viewing session.

The EEG data revealed that viewing real plants significantly increased participants' relative theta (RT) power spectrum in the occipital lobes, indicating a state of relaxation.3 At the same time, real plants decreased relative high beta (RHB) power spectrum in the left occipital lobe, signifying reduced stress and anxiety.4 Neither the artificial plants, plant photographs, nor soil alone elicited such brain changes.

On the mood questionnaires, participants reported feeling most comfortable, natural, relaxed, and vigorous after looking at the real plants compared to the other stimuli.5 Viewing living plants also resulted in the lowest scores for tension, anger, fatigue, depression, and confusion.6

The occipital lobes, located in the back of the brain, are primarily responsible for processing visual information.7 Previous studies have associated theta waves with relaxed, meditative states and high beta waves with stress and anxiety.8 By triggering these measurable changes in occipital brain activity, real plants demonstrate a potent ability to promote mental restoration. Subjective reports also confirm the soothing, mood-lifting power of plants.

While prior research has documented the restorative effects of spending time in nature, this study specifically highlights the positive psychophysiological impact of viewing plants in indoor settings. The findings suggest that adding live plants to homes and workplaces could offer a simple way to reduce stress, boost mood, and enhance overall quality of life, especially for city dwellers with limited access to green space.

As urban populations continue to grow, finding ways to incorporate nature into built environments becomes increasingly vital for public health. This study points to one surprisingly easy intervention--just putting some potted plants within view. Someday, perhaps doctors will prescribe a "dose of green plants" as a low-cost, non-pharmacological treatment for stress and anxiety. In the meantime, consider cultivating your own indoor garden for a mental health boost.


References

1. Ji-Eun Jeong and Sin-Ae Park, "Physiological and Psychological Effects of Visual Stimulation with Green Plant Types," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 12 (December 8, 2021): 12932, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182412932.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

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