Does A Green Office Aid Long-Term Decision Making

At the end of last year, a study emerged from researchers at Exeter University that explored the role greenery played in our productivity at work (I covered it here). It transpired that an office that was plush with plant life made employees around 15 percent more productive than their colleagues in more spartan offices. The researchers suggested that the greenery made employees more physically, emotionally and cognitively engaged.

That isn’t the extent of a plants power over us, however, a second study suggests that it also has a big part to play in our decision making abilities.

How plants influence our decision making

It’s fairly well known that we often discount the value of things in the future for things in the present. Probably the best known example of this was the Stanford marshmallow experiment, whereby children were told that if they could withold their urge to eat a marshmallow right away, they would get extra marshmallows in fifteen minutes time.

The research was hugely important because when the children from the experiment were tracked through life, it emerged that those who successfully waited seemed to do much better in life than those who gobbled down the treat straight away.

From an evolutionary sense, it makes sense though doesn’t it? I mean, when food is hard to come by, and you’re not sure when your next meal will come from, you get as much as you can, when you can. It’s what’s known as discounting the future, and we make these kind of short sighted choices surprisingly frequently in life.

There was also a Dutch experiment wanted to see whether being in a more natural seeming environment aided or harmed our ability to delay gratification and think more long-term.

About the research

Participants were shown photos of various natural environments in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. A control group were also shown photos, but this time of urban environments. After being shown the photos, both groups were then asked to participate in the marshmallow game.

Interestingly, it emerged that the team who had been shown the photos of nature were much better at the game than their more urban peers.  The results showed them to be around 15 percent better at the game than those in the other group.

So what causes this?  The researchers suggest it might be because seeing photos of nature makes us think of resources as being abudant, and therefore we’re less inclined to take the short sighted option. In real life, they suggest that this often manifests itself in the slower pace of life in rural locations, with people taking longer term choices, whereas their urban dwelling peers chase more instant gratification.

It’s a fascinating suggestion, especially as short-termism is generally regarded as something of a negative trait when it comes to workplace decision making.

Just as with the original experiment, might we, therefore, begin to see more and more workplaces attempt to recreate more natural seeming environments?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, especially if your own employer has attempted to ’green up’ your office.


Image: iStock

Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans?




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