As It Happens

Stressed at work? New study suggests staring at a plant can help

New research suggests three minutes staring at a small desk plant can decrease your heart rate and remedy your workplace blues.

Researchers observed participants' heart rates before and after plant engagement

A new study published in the American Journal for Horticultural Science looks at the impact plants can have in reducing stress levels at the office. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images)

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Feeling stressed at work? New research indicates that even minor attention paid to a small desk plant can remedy your workday blues.

The study, conducted by researchers at Hyogo University in Japan and published in the American Journal for Horticultural Science, had 63 volunteers stare at a personal desk plant for three minutes during their work day, recording pulse rates before and after. 

"It was a soft gazing situation," Marni Barnes, a researcher on the study, explained.

The study shows about 27 per cent of participants experienced a decrease in their pulse rate after engaging with their desk plants, and most participants' anxiety scores fell as well.

"You don't have to have conscious interaction for nature to influence how you're feeling," Barnes told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"That's the wonderful thing about nature. You can be a non-believer and you can be healed by [it.]"

Barnes said the study's participants chose the plant they wanted from a diverse selection of options. (Aniel Leal-Olivias/AFP via Getty Images)

Barnes stresses the importance of having a small plant at your work station because previous studies showed plants that were "too large" actually reduced productivity. 

"We don't know why that happened but that was coming up in the results."

Other studies also revealed that plants that are positioned too far away, for instance on a nearby windowsill, were not effective at reducing stress, said Barnes. 

Marni Barnes is an international lecturer at Hyogo University. (Tyler Beatie)

Barnes and her fellow researchers compared results from participants based on gender and age in their experiment, "and there were no significant differences between the groups."

In a control period before the study, the pulse rates of participants were monitored before and after they took breaks without looking at plants. Stepping away from work in that way "did not help very much," said Barnes. 

But Barnes believes more research is needed to explore how other stimuli can potentially reduce stress. 

"Further studies need to be done about whether artwork is effective. But we know that plants are highly effective. That much we already know. The question is: Is it worth it to have a plant, or would a picture of a flower do just as well?"

The study also used a questionnaire, which suggested that tending and watering the desk plants was an important part of the four-week trial for participants, said Barnes. 

"They started to bond with the plant and to care about it."

And for those of us who have struggled to keep any plant (even the succulents) alive despite our best efforts? Hope is not lost, says Barnes. 

"[For] people who lost their plant, it did not seem to influence whether or not they found benefit." 

Written by Sarah Claydon. Segment produced by Yasmin Gandham. 


  • A previous version of this post suggested researchers compared DNA analysis of participants along gender lines, when they conducted a comparative analysis of pulse rates.
    Feb 13, 2020 11:39 AM ET