Guppy love: The ‘feel-good’ properties of fish tanks

November 12, 2018

People who spend time watching aquariums and fish tanks could see improvements in their physical and mental well-being, according to findings of a study conducted cooperatively in the United Kingdom by the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University, and the University of Exeter.

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. The study was published in 2015 in the journal, Environment and Behavior.

Lead researcher Deborah Cracknell of the National Marine Aquarium team said in a press release, “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 well-being.”

The researchers benefited from a unique opportunity when the National Marine Aquarium refurbished one of its main exhibits —contained in a large 145,000-gallon tank—and began a phased introduction of different fish species. They were able to assess the mood, heart rate, and blood pressure of study participants as fish numbers in the exhibit gradually increased.

Dr Sabine Pahl, associate professor in Psychology at Plymouth University commented, “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, remarked, “Our findings have shown improvements for health and well-being in highly managed settings, providing an exciting possibility for people who aren’t able to access outdoor natural environments. If we can identify the mechanisms that underpin the benefits we’re seeing, we can effectively bring some of the ‘outside inside’ and improve the well-being of people without ready access to nature.”

Research contact: Mathew.White@exeter.ac.uk

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