Research has shown that the most common psychological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were anxiety, stress, and depression. A new study from the University of Seville suggests that having indoor plants protected many people from these negative feelings. The researchers found that exposure to houseplants had a positive influence on mental health during the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The experts evaluated the role of houseplants during the confinement period from March to June, when many people were deprived of freely visiting green spaces. Previous studies have reported on the psychological benefits of nature, including lower levels of stress and a greater sense of well-being. Exposure to plants has also been linked to more positive feelings and behaviors, as well as less anger and fear.
“These psychological benefits might be related to the so-called biophilia concept (i.e., a preference for interacting in a natural environment as a consequence of our evolutionary course) and based on theories of restorative effects,” wrote the study authors. They noted that these restorative effects help to promote a genuine appreciation for nature that motivates pro-environmental behavior and creates more environmentally aware citizens.
“Furthermore, evidence shows that there is an implicit link between ‘nature’ and ‘outdoors’ that results in lower attention attributed to indoor vegetation settings,” wrote the researchers. “However, in contemporary societies, the increasing amount of time spent indoors often results in separation from the natural environment.”
“Living in environments with minimal or absent use of plants could lead to negative behaviors, such as irritation or hostility. These behaviors might be particularly applicable to the COVID-19 pandemic confinement, which was aggravated by additional negative emotions of fear, disappointment, uncertainty, and stress.”
For the current investigation, the experts surveyed more than 4,200 individuals in 46 countries. Overall, 74 percent of the respondents agreed that having houseplants had a positive influence on their emotional well-being during lockdown. More than half of the participants said they would have preferred to have more plants in their home at that time.
Respondents who did not have houseplants were more likely to report experiencing negative emotions compared to individuals who cared for plants during COVID-19 restrictions. People living in small or poorly lit spaces, as well as those who did not visit green spaces frequently before the pandemic, also experienced more negative emotions.
The researchers found that just over half of respondents spent more time on plant care at home during lockdown. In addition, 63 percent of the participants expressed the desire to care for plants more after the pandemic, while 40 percent said they planned to get more plants for their home.
According to the researchers, a 2019 review of 50 studies concluded that the strongest effect of houseplants on human behavior is their capacity to increase positive emotions and to reduce negative feelings.
“For instance, a decrease in the perception of pain, fear, unhappiness, and aggressiveness has been found to be associated with the presence of indoor plants. In addition, stress seems to be reduced in indoor environments enriched with vegetation compared with indoor spaces without plants.”
The international study was coordinated by the Research Group for Urban Nature and Biosystems Engineering (NATURIB) from the University of Seville’s School of Agricultural Engineering.
The research is published in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer