Rutgers: Flowers Improve Emotional Health
With today’s high-tech and fast-paced lifestyle taking its daily toll on our lives, experts advise exercise and other personal lifestyle changes to relieve stress. According to behavioural research conducted at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, nature provides us with a simple way to improve emotional health – flowers. The presence of flowers triggers happy emotions, heightens feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behaviour in a positive manner far beyond what is normally believed.
“What’s most exciting about this study is that it challenges established scientific beliefs about how people can manage their day-to-day moods healthily and naturally,” said Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Rutgers and lead researcher on the study.
A team of researchers explored the link between flowers and life satisfaction in a 10-month study of participants’ behavioural and emotional responses to receiving flowers. The results show that flowers are a natural and healthful moderator of moods.
The study also explored where in their homes people display flowers. The arrangements were placed in areas of the home that are open to visitors – such as foyers, living rooms and dining rooms – suggesting that flowers are a symbol for sharing.
“Flowers bring about positive emotional feelings in those who enter a room,” said Dr. Haviland-Jones. “They make the space more welcoming and create a sharing atmosphere.”
The Emotional Impact of Flowers Study was conducted by Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Project Director, Human Development Lab at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Dr. Haviland-Jones is a psychologist and internationally recognized authority in the role of emotional development in human behaviour and nonverbal emotional signals and response.
The research adds a scientific foundation to what many consider common knowledge – that flowers have a strong, beneficial impact on those who receive them. The Society of American Florists worked in cooperation with the Rutgers research team, bringing expertise of flowers to the project.
The participants were 147 women, ranging equally in age, educational level, and career and lifestyle choice. Women were studied because previous research on emotion demonstrates that women are more discerning of moods, more willing to participate in studies on moods and more involved in emotional management within the home and at work.
Study participants knew they would have a gift delivered, but they did not know what the gift would be. This “secrecy” was to obtain an honest first reaction to the gift as a measure of the direct effect of flowers on immediate mood.
Immediate Emotional Reaction
Trained researchers measured the behaviour and emotional expression of participants when they received the flowers. Three different smiles as well as verbal reactions were coded upon the delivery of the flowers. The information was recorded into a field computer within the first 5 seconds of the flower delivery, to measure the first, immediate reaction accurately.
Polite Smile: This is used most commonly in quick greetings or acknowledgements. No discernible facial movement is present except the turning up of the corners of the mouth.
True Smile: This is seen when there are possible changes in behaviour indicating pleasure. Hence it is called “true” – the person is truly happy.
Excited Smile: This smile combines two emotions – excitement and happiness. Here we see the true smile, but also the eyebrows are raised so that there are high, horizontal wrinkles across the forehead.
The participants were interviewed before getting their gifts, to give the research team a “baseline” of measure. From this, the researchers measured how feelings changed when participants had flowers in their homes. In the initial interview, interviewers asked the participants to evaluate their feelings over the past two to four days to assess their overall, general feelings. Then, several days after the gift was delivered (about 10 days after the first interview) participants were interviewed again to measure changes in feelings related to having flowers in the home.
About the Researcher
Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Rutgers University and the director of its Human Emotions Lab. An internationally recognized authority on the role of emotional development in human behaviour and nonverbal emotional signals and response, Haviland-Jones has published several books on adolescence and emotion and is co-editor of the Handbook of Emotion, for which she won a Critics Circle Award.