The sight of water, whether it’s the serene waves of a beach, the tranquil flow of a river, or the mesmerizing life within an aquarium, often invokes a profound sense of calmness and tranquillity. It’s like nature’s antidote to anxiety, a soothing balm for the soul. In fact, a research team found that viewing aquarium displays led to noticeable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate. They also noted that higher numbers of fish helped to hold people’s attention for longer and improve their moods.
People who spend time watching aquariums and fish tanks could see improvements in their physical and mental well-being, according to new research published in the journal Environment & Behaviour.
In the first study, experts from the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University, and the University of Exeter assessed people’s physical and mental responses to tanks containing varying levels of fish.
The team found that viewing aquarium displays led to noticeable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate and that higher numbers of fish helped to hold people’s attention for longer and improve their moods.
Role of underwater settings on health and wellbeing
Whilst spending time in ‘natural’ environments has been shown to provide calming effects on humans, there has been very little research into the role that underwater settings could have on health and wellbeing. Deborah Cracknell, PhD Student and Lead Researcher at the National Marine Aquarium conducted the study and believes it provides an important first step in our understanding: “Fish tanks and displays are often associated with attempts at calming patients in doctors’ surgeries and dental waiting rooms. This study has, for the first time, provided robust evidence that ‘doses’ of exposure to underwater settings could actually have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing.”
The researchers benefited from a unique opportunity to conduct their study when the National Marine Aquarium refurbished one of its main exhibits — in a large 550,000-litre tank — and began a phased introduction of different fish species.
They assessed the mood, heart rate, and blood pressure of study participants in precisely the same setting as fish numbers in the exhibit gradually increased.
Aquariums improve the well-being of people
Dr Sabine Pahl, Associate Professor in Psychology at Plymouth University, said: “While large public aquariums typically focus on their educational mission, our study suggests they could offer a number of previously undiscovered benefits. In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation.”
Dr Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, said: “Our findings have shown improvements for health and wellbeing in highly managed settings, providing an exciting possibility for people who aren’t able to access outdoor natural environments. Suppose we can identify the mechanisms that underpin the benefits we’re seeing. In that case, we can effectively bring some of the ‘outside inside’ and improve the wellbeing of people without ready access to nature.”
Materials provided by the University of Exeter. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
D. Cracknell, M. P. White, S. Pahl, W. J. Nichols, M. H. Depledge. Marine Biota and Psychological Well-Being: A Preliminary Examination of Dose-Response Effects in an Aquarium Setting. Environment and Behaviour, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/0013916515597512
University of Exeter. “Aquariums deliver health and wellbeing benefits.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 July 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150729215632.htm>.
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