The Science Says: Houseplants Can Make You Smarter!


Recent research has forcefully suggested that even the simple presence of selected plants in your living or study room can boost your concentration span! Amazing, isn’t it?

You are probably aware of the fact that eating plant-based and nutrient-dense food is good for you. Indeed, this awareness must be perceived like a health alert for every human being who is determined to live health-wise!

However, what you may not be aware of is the fact that plants can also provide benefits for you if you place them in your immediate environment. New scientific studies are increasingly beginning to show that just having plants in your workspace may improve your ‘train of thoughts.’ So, let that ‘train’ run as fast as possible…

In a study pending to be published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers convincingly show that the plain existence of radiant plants in office settings boosts one’s ability to maintain their attention range.

As humans spend most of their lives in front of monitors and screens, scientists have paid better attention to the effects these artificial human-made environments have on the mind. This new corpus of observational study suggests that it may be possible to reap great benefits by making simple changes in our ‘stale’ decorating strategy.

These findings are a result of a liable research, based on Attention Restoration Theory. According to this theory, the reason why you can “stare at spreadsheets” for only so long before you feel like tossing your computer monitor out of the window is that everyone has a limited capacity for this type of work.

This limited capacity system makes use of “directed attention” which is effortful, controlled voluntarily, and, unfortunately, “wears” with use.


We can readily contrast this capacity with the kind of attention that is engaged when we are out, walking in a park: our attention is drawn first to that leaf, then to another.

Then, a shadow of a dog streaking across the green meadow pulls your eyes in another direction… until a flash of vibrant colors from flowers by the path “stones” your focus. This second kind of attention, called undirected attention, is unforced, that is automatically-oriented to interesting features of our surroundings, and, according to the theory, allows the directed attention system to rest and recover itself anew.

So, intrigued scientists have cleared that our ‘exposure’ to naturalistic [or even natural-like] environments, such as the above-described with plenty of foliage, has regenerative effects for directed attention. Yet, much of the research in this area has been done only with natural scenes on a larger scale – for instance, by having participants stroll through a park, or focus their vision on pictures of dense vegetal life.

The research on whether one can still reap the regenerative benefit by simply having a few plants in their workroom has led to mixed results. In one study, the specimen of participants in a college computer laboratory, with plants around them, showed increased study productivity.

However, another study failed to find any benefits associated with plants while others have found plant-associated benefits only for men, or only for women.

In support of their findings, the authors of the here-presented study suggest that these inconsistencies can result from the use of different tools between labs. Just as different doctors take your health parameters in a number of ways – from taking your blood pressure, to determining your body-fat percentage – so do psychologists have a number of ways to ‘measure attention.’

And, each measurement tool, depending on how precisely it works, and which aspect of attention it actually measures, may lead to a different final finding!

The scientific tools used by the authors of the study

For this particular experiment, the authors decided to use a Reading Span Task, which involves:

1. reading a series of sentences aloud and
2. remembering the last word in each sentence.

Alike the way you may need to remember a piece of info from a spreadsheet before entering it into a word processing document, this task requires that you fluidly switch between attention demanding tasks:

1. from reading and memorizing at one moment,
2. to writing and recalling it at the next moment.

Why did the authors choose this particular measuring tool?

Well, the authors chose this particular measure because the ability to remember and recall information, while switching between tasks, taps into the “central executive processes” which are thought to be a critical component for directed attention.

In order to test their bold hypothesis that plants in an office setting would lead to mental benefits, the authors placed some participants in an office with 4 plants placed around a desk, and others in the same room without any plants whatsoever!

All the participants first took a Reading Span Task to establish a baseline measure of attention capacity, then a proof-reading task, followed by another Reading Span Task to establish any change in their attention capacity.

And here it is, fair and square: The experiment’s results showed that the lucky participants working in the room with plants improved their performance from the 1st to the 2nd Reading Span Task, while those in the room without ‘plant-friends’ did not! So, it does seem obvious that oxygen-releasing plants lead to real cognitive benefits, but researchers must still answer some arising questions.

These 3 questions seem especially important:

1. What is the nature of the relationship between the plants, and the breaks which lead to rejuvenation of directed attention?
2. Do the plants cause people to rest their directed attention system more frequently?
3. Or perhaps the plants qualitatively change the resting period, making the breaks more effective?

Regardless of the answers, it seems clear that the presence of plants in the work area led to direct benefits for clear mental functioning.

So, even if you have never been the one to make your mom smiling by eating your veggies, it still seems that you can take advantage of the beneficial effects of leafy greens. All you have to do now is just put some plants of choice around your desk, and then tackle your problems with a refreshed mind. After all, you won’t need to go through the stress of having to eat them!



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