Research investigating the relationship between physical environments and various aspects of quality of life have found that, “people with access to nearby natural settings have been found to be healthier overall than other individuals” including increased levels of satisfaction at home, work, and with life in general (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). This concept of nearby nature can be extended to scenes of nature as well. For example, Ulrich (1981) found that when viewing slides of nature as opposed to slides of views of urban areas, participants increased attentiveness and positive mood, especially when such natural scenes included water. Another study found similar psychological effects on individuals with views of distant mountains (Heerwagen, 1990; White and Heerwagen, 1998). Even incarcerated criminals with window views of natural areas have reported less incidence of illness when compared with those without window views of natural areas (Moore, 1981).
Furthermore, numerous researchers have found that mood improves and pleasure increases when viewing scenes with vegetation. For example, Hull and Harvey (1989) found that participants’ reported pleasure increased with increased tree density when viewing slides of a suburban park. In addition, when Thayer and Atwood (1978) asked participants to rate five landscape types, suburban residential, industrial, urban commercial, city park, and strip highway (in each of these groupings, two slides were used, one with plants, and one without) on scales rating the pleasantness of the scene, they found that participants who viewed slides with plants rated the scenes as more pleasing when compared with those who viewed slides without plants in all of the five landscape types. Similarly, Sheets and Manzer (1991) asked participants to rate scenes that varied only in the amount and size of plant materials shown. Groups who viewed the vegetation scenes rated the surrounding inhabitants of the viewed area as having higher quality of life and expressed higher affective pleasure when compared with groups who rated the non-vegetation scenes. In a similar study, Galindo and Rodriguez (2000) found that participants who rated scenes as aesthetically pleasing also rated their mood more positively than those who rated their scenes with low aesthetic scores. Furthermore, 25% of participants who rated their scene as aesthetically pleasing gave reasons pertaining to the naturalness of the scene and 24% of individuals who rated their scene as aesthetically poor gave reasons pertaining to lack of naturalness. Wolf (1996) also explained that research has revealed that urban forests also provide a more satisfying quality of life for urban residents. With findings such as these that indicated a relationship between the physical environment and mood, researchers have concluded that human responses to vegetation are aesthetic, affective, and cognitive (Sheets and Manzer, 1991). These findings indicate that nature, even in modest quantities, can have a positive influence on residents who live nearby.
The relationship between physical environment and human response is physiological as well. Ulrich (1984) also found that surgery patients recovered faster when they had windows with views of nature in their rooms than those patients without such views. Individuals driving with vegetation along the roadsides have lower stress levels and quicker recovery from stress when compared with those driving in areas with no vegetation along the highway (Parsons et al., 1998). These findings indicated that human response to the physical environment transcended psychological well-being, and also included physiological well-being.
Several studies have found physiological differences in individuals who worked in areas with plants or natural views when compared with those working in areas without them. Employees report fewer incidences of headaches and other illness when having a view of nature at work. In addition, Lohr et al. (1996) found that plants in an office-type environment both increased productivity and decreased stress. Finally, Chang and Chen (2005) conducted a study measuring psychophysicological responses to window views and indoor plants in the workplace. Their findings indicated that participants were less nervous and experienced less anxiety when in a room with interior plants or a view of outside nature.
Studies have also shown workers who performed their job function in offices with windows or interior plants had higher job satisfaction. Randall and Shoemaker (1992) found a positive relationship between job satisfaction and the presence of interior plants in the workspace in an office in northern Virginia. Similarly, Dravigne et al. (2008) found that live interior plants and window views of green spaces appeared to positively influence employees’ perceptions of overall job satisfaction (particularly for males), employees’ perceptions of their overall life quality, and employees’ perceptions of their physical work environment. Although past research has focused on live plants or window views in the workplace, few studies look at the impact of walking through natural areas outdoors during the workday.
It is also important to consider volunteers in nonprofit organizations, as both types of workers often do similar types of work for an organization. Volunteers and employees tend to have similar characteristics (Light, 2002); however, the nature of the nonobligatory work of volunteers means there are inherent differences in their satisfaction (Boezeman and Ellemers, 2009). Since the context of their work is different, organizations looking to improve the health and longevity of their work and volunteer force should consider both types of workers, but with consideration of their status as employees or volunteers (Johns, 2006).
The purpose of the current study was to investigate the relationship between the use of green spaces and public gardens in the work place on mental well-being, overall quality of life, and job satisfaction with consideration of both employees and volunteers. The hypothesis of this study is that people who spend more time in natural or landscape areas during the workday, or who have window views of natural areas or live plants in their office will have higher scores on the mental well-being, quality of life, and job satisfaction questions.
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