Have you ever noticed the feeling of calm you feel when you enter a space that has elements of natural wood? Environmental and architectural psychology can provide interesting insight into the human relationship with wood. Research into human preferences and choice of surroundings has led to important progress in identifying what features create positive environments. Not surprisingly, in the search for elements that create and enhance mentally and physically positive responses, nature appears as a constant theme. Wood, specifically wood grain images, can affect our daily lives more than one would think. While 90% of activity is spent indoors, exposure to wood directly affects our daily mood, and how effectively we complete tasks.
We have long understood that, in spending time outdoors, our moods improve, cortisol levels are lowered, and we experience improved focus. Conversely, there are multiple factors of stress that can occur from excessive time in indoor environments. Physiological responses such as anxiety, insomnia, and our ability to retain information are connected to long term indoor exposure. Negative physical effects of indoor excess time include high blood pressure, sweating, and increased heartbeat.
By integrating wood, either real or synthetic, into interior design, our sympathetic nervous system responses improve. From a design perspective, enhancing indoor environments can mitigate some of the effects of time spent inside through exposure to outdoor themes.
But not all wood is the same. According to environmental psychologist Dr. Sally Augustine, the wood grain pattern itself seems to be the root of the positive implications of using wood. Therefore, artificial wood can lead to the same sorts of psychological benefits as real wood—as long as those artificial wood patterns truly look like real wood. Also, if artificial wood is used it’s important that there is enough variety in the flooring—used in any space so that there are not unnatural appearing duplicates, for instance. This means, for example, that a particular knot that appears in a stretch of artificial wood flooring should only be visible once in the expanse of wood, as would be the case if real, natural wood was used. Interestingly, Dr. Augustine notes that to reap the benefits of wood grain, that grain has to be visible; ebony finishes don’t have the same psychological power as oak finishes.
There is also sweet spot for the amount of wood used in a room, and that is around 45 percent of surfaces. Research shows that when the concentration of visible wood grain gets above this level, the value of wood-in-use begins to erode.
In Part 2 of our blog on wood, we will discuss some examples of how research shows that seeing wood grain in our homes and offices boosts our mental well-being and performance but also has a direct business impact.