In a recent interview with Jason Stevens for Episode 6 of the podcast, we talked about how plants can improve your concentration and information retention. Studies have been conducted into the benefits of living with plants indoors, many of which fail to prove conclusively one way or the other whether it’s a good thing. Desperate for a good story, the media and horticultural industry often cherry-pick information from these studies and declare living with plants is irrefutably a good thing.
However, a little bit more digging into this area of research proves that decisive conclusions are not so easy to come by. An article in the Scientific American by Travis Riddle explores a 2011 study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, which aimed to clear up discrepancies in previous studies. This 2011 study placed four plants around the desks of workers in an office and following a test that measured attention span, concluded there were real cognitive benefits to be had by the addition of these plants to the environment. However, researchers were not clear as to how or why plants can have positive effects in this situation.
A more contentious claim is that plants add oxygen to and purify the air in a room. It’s simplistic to say plants give off oxygen (or carbon dioxide); they do, but arguably not in a way that would have much influence on the human inhabitants of a room. As for air purification, the less than convincing evidence seems to come from NASA research published in the 1980s. There is evidence to show plants have the potential to purify the air but whether they carry out this role effectively in your average room is scant. The latest exercise in irony is houseplants wrapped in cellophane that proclaims how great plants are at purifying the air in your home. Far be it from me to suggest the push for growers to equate houseplants with a healthier indoor environment is just a cynical marketing ploy.
Based on studies to date, it seems plants may help your concentration and information retention and they may or may not improve the air quality in your home, but I don’t think enough research has been carried out to concretely prove a beneficial link. The general consensus seems to be if they won’t help, they won’t hurt, so bung a few plants around your home or work area and enjoy them in their own right. Let’s just treat claims of health-giving and productivity-boosting properties with a little bit of scepticism until more proof is available.