Neuroscientists have found that distinctive processes occur in our brains—consciously and subconsciously, cognitively and physiologically—from the moment we step into a space. These processes affect our emotions, our health, and even the development of memory.
Natural wood tones are become increasingly effective in office environments. According to Dr. Marjut Wallenius of the University of Tampere, Finland, the use of wood in service centers for the elderly and in hospital construction promotes health and well-being in the mind and body.
“I throw down a challenge to architects and structural designers and express the hope that wood can be left visible in interiors,” Wallenius remarks.
Wallenius based her observations on a questionnaire she conducted. “The questionnaires looked into how wood influences people’s behavior. A study at a service center for the elderly showed that the use of wood in interiors affected the behavior of elderly people favorably. Wood has [positive] psychological effects on people – a similar stress-reducing effect as nature.”
Staff included in the study noticed that participants exhibited greater amounts of social interaction when wooden products were present.
“In Japan, good experiences have also been [observed] concerning the use of wooden structures in neurological clinics. More of these behavioral studies are needed to help find solutions, for example in the care of elderly people suffering from memory disorders,” says Wallenius.
Natural wood is known to have positive effects for convalescence, with several positive effects being documented. “By using massive wood, it has been found that the humidity of indoor air in hospitals can be kept optimal from a health perspective, particularly for those suffering from allergies and asthma; additionally:
Although Wallenius agrees that research into the healing effects of wood is still nascent, she is clear that the reaction to wood interiors on both a psychological and physiological level is usually positive. “Wood can also be considered a material that supports health and recovery, although it is not yet known precisely what the positive effects of wood are based on.”
The health effects of wood interiors have been studied in many countries, including Norway, Austria, Japan, Canada, and Denmark. A study by the Norwegian Institute of Wood Technology established that a room with four [wooden] walls had more of a healing effect than a room with a window. The use of wood in facilities is particularly beneficial in long-term care facilities, such as: offices, hospitals and health centers, waiting rooms, schools and day care centers.
Other studies have shown that wood dramatically reduces stress levels in students. According to Wallenius, classrooms with whole-wood interiors, the morning stress peak – measured as a variation in pulse rate – subsided soon after arriving at school and did not rise again. In a normal classroom, a mild level of stress in pupils continued throughout the day.
“But the favorable effects of wood cannot be duplicated with imitation wood. Physiological measurements have shown that the quality of sleep and recovery from stress are better in a room with wood that one with imitation wood,” said Wallenius.
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