Finding Peace Among The (Vertical) Plants

Need to relax? Looking at vertical greenery might just do the trick, say scientists from Singapore.

AsianScientist (Jul. 22, 2021) – Here’s some good news for plant lovers—vertical greenery on the exterior of buildings may ease stress, found researchers from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU). Their findings, published in Landscape and Urban Planning, could guide greening efforts in urban areas.

Scroll down your news feed and you’ll likely notice a preponderance of plants. Over the past year and half, restrictive health measures and lockdowns appear to have sparked a global gardening craze, with more and more people claiming to be proud ‘plant parents.’

While gardening seems to have helped many cope with the pressures of the pandemic, its effects beyond the household’s confines remain unexplored. Within the context of cities, green spaces like urban parks and vertical greenery are often planted for their sustainability benefits. After all, such spaces help regulate temperature amid rising heat and provide spaces for local biodiversity to thrive.

To explore the benefits of green spaces—particularly vertical greenery found outside buildings—on mental health, NTU researchers used virtual reality (VR) to examine whether the botanic blooms could buffer individuals living in cities against stress.

Using VR headsets, 111 participants were asked to walk down a virtual street for five minutes. Participants were randomly assigned to either a street that featured rows of planted greenery or one that only had buildings with green walls in place of green plants.

To make the experience even more life-like, heavy traffic noise was played as the participants walked through the virtual street. As an indicator for stress, variations in heart rate were monitored using a portable electrocardiogram (ECG) device. After the virtual street walk, participants answered a questionnaire assessing their positive and negative emotions as well as their levels of anxiety.

Interestingly, the study found that those who viewed the green-painted buildings had higher stress levels and reportedly felt less positive while walking through the street. Meanwhile, those who viewed the buildings with vertical greenery had no change in their stress levels and felt largely neutral afterwards.

“While previous studies looked at effects of green vegetation, the fact that the colour green could simply be a primitive visual feature, resulting in positive effects, was not considered,” explained co-lead author Ms. Sarah Chan, a PhD candidate at NTU. “Thanks to emerging technology like VR, we overcame this limitation and were able to use a control condition, matching vertical greenery with the colour green in our study.”

As one of the first studies to investigate the contributions of vertical greenery to mental health, Chan and her co-authors say that their findings provide additional impetus for city planners to design greener cities that cultivate mental health.

Moving forward, the team plans to once again use VR to investigate the psychological impact of natural materials in architecture—for instance, comparing the effects of wood to concrete.

“Our work can guide efforts to green cities, by providing evidence of how vertical greenery can be a viable way to integrate nature into our built environment and promote mental health,” concluded Associate Professor Qiu Lin, principal investigator at NTU.

The article can be found at: Chan et al. (2021) Vertical Greenery Buffers Against Stress: Evidence From Psychophysiological Responses in Virtual Reality.


Source: Nanyang Technological University; Photo: MC Mediastudio/Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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