"Wood has psychological effects on people and a similar stress-reducing effect to nature," says Marjut Wallenius, a Docent and Doctor of Psychology at the University of Tampere. The use of wood promotes the health and well-being of mind and body.
Based on studies carried out in Norway, Japan, Canada and Austria, wood seems to have positive effects on the emotional state of people. Environments with wooden structures cause a drop in blood pressure and pulse and have a calming effect. "Now that we are very familiar with the technical properties of wood, we should carry out a cross-disciplinary research project about the psychological and physiological effects of wood," suggests Wallenius.
But what factors in wood as a building material affect people? "Wooden surfaces make a room feel warmer and cosier and they also have a calming effect. In these properties, wood beats all other normal surface materials," answers Wallenius.
The answer to the question ’what is a good material for people?’ is sought through human experience and how this positive experience manifests itself physiologically and psychologically. "One answer is the naturalness of wood, which is also found in all other natural materials such as rock, linen and silk. The naturalness and natural origin of wood is also why wood is considered a warm and cosy material in construction," says Wallenius.
According to observations made in research, touching a wooden surface gives people a feeling of safety and being close to nature. "It is especially interesting that the feel of wood is softer than other materials, not only experientially but also physiologically," says Wallenius.
In studies, for example, touching aluminium at room temperature, cool plastic or stainless steel caused a rise in blood pressure. Touching a wooden surface, however, did not cause such a reaction. In a comparison of different work rooms, stress level, measured as the skin’s capacity to conduct electricity, was lowest in a room with wooden furniture. Not even plants brought into a room fitted out in white had the same effect.
Research results encourage new innovations in the wood products sector
In Wallenius’ opinion, a research objective is to put results into practice and utilise companies, for example in marketing. "This would give the wood processing industry quite new dimensions. Company management also needs to be bold in devising new innovations. Boundaries between the sciences and humanities should also be torn down.
"Continuing this research is also important because questions regarding indoor air are becoming increasingly important social issues in public facilities and housing. The use of wood may affect not only air quality and acoustics but also the atmosphere of a room and the mood and physiological stress level of those present there."
Wallenius says that as people are psycho-physical entities, the psychological experience is also reflected in physiology. The health effect comes when the psychological experiences changes into a physiological reaction. It is thus advisable to examine the psycho-physical effect of the use of wood, because the psychological and physiological effects are inseparable.
Changes of mood such as their emotional states are at the same time manifested in bodily changes. For example, stress is not only an experience. It is also a large number of physiological and cognitive changes. Autonomous nervous system indicators such as fluctuation in heart rate also reflect the balance of a person’s system more broadly.
"Based on studies carried out so far, we can say that wood reduces stress in a person and has a calming effect. This is based on the positive emotional experience that wood causes, such as proximity to nature, warmth, homeliness and a relaxing effect," explains Wallenius.
This article has been reprinted with kind permission of www.woodproducts.fi