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A Bouquet a Day...

Study finds that living around flowers reduces stress

By William M. Goldsmith, Contributing Writer

A new behavioral study conducted by a Harvard faculty member will have more people stopping to smell the roses. Fresh findings show that people feel less stressed and more compassionate toward others when they spend time in a floral environment.

Clinical Researcher in Psychology at Harvard Medical School Nancy L. Etcoff said she followed 55 women of various ages and backgrounds over the course of two weeks, surprising them with bouquets of flowers and asking them to keep diaries documenting their daily activities and emotions.

“What we found is that living with flowers for a few days affected a wide variety of positive and negative emotions,” she said.

Two flower industry groups, the Flower Promotion Organization and the Society of American Florists, helped fund Etcoff’s study.

Jennifer Sparks, vice president of marketing for the Society of American Florists, said the study stemmed from previous research, which showed that the act of receiving flowers brings “instant satisfaction and delight.”

“The purpose of this study was to see if having just a few flowers in your home could change your mood,” Sparks said.

Around the Square and on campus, students and florists said the project’s conclusions were not very surprising.

Elmer Helgeson, an employee at Brattle Square Florist, corroborated the study’s findings.

“Sometimes, people just walk into the shop during the dead of winter to get a mental lift,” he said. “Flowers mellow people out. They lift their spirits.”

Around the Yard, flowers are a budding commodity as well. Erica B. Richey ’10 lamented the recent demise of the array of orchids that had previously adorned her desk in Matthews.

“Flowers make me think of sunshine in the midst of this dismal fall and the impending winter. When you buy flowers, it’s like treating yourself,” she said, pointing to the vacant area where the orchids once bloomed.

Rachel Singh ’10 said she has a cactus because it’s easy to take care of.

“It’s alive, and the fact that we can, away from home, sustain a living thing is quite comforting,” she said of the green cactus with yellow flowers that sits on her windowsill.

Etcoff is the author of “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty.” She said that she studied “human beauty” because she was interested in the effects of beauty in nature on the human psyche.

As a psychologist, Etcoff said one of the unexpected results of her study was that the presence of plants in the home also leads to heightened relaxation, energy, and compassion at work.

Etcoff said she now plans to study in depth the effects of flowers in the workplace on human emotions.

Meanwhile, Stan Pohmer, the executive director of the Flower Promotion Organization, said his group would now try to disseminate the results of Etcoff’s study.

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