Wood’s effects on well-being are a hot research topic in Europe

Riina Muilu-Mäkelä, a senior researcher at Luke, the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, is conducting basic research on the health effects of wood. She also coordinates the Finnish Superwood project, which aims to identify the commercial market potential of wood in addition to its health effects. – Research on wood’s health effects is cross-disciplinary. The research team at the University of Tampere includes physicians, biologists and psychologists, architects and also experts in industrial economics.

According to Muilu-Mäkelä, wood has been demonstrated to have a soothing effect. – Wooden materials have been found to have beneficial effects. Research has shown that merely touching or looking at wood materials or surfaces when compared to many synthetic materials or metals soothes people.

– It is difficult to measure peoples’ experience of well-being because it is composed of so many factors. On a general level however, we can say that even people who are not particular fans of wood still generally have a neutral reaction to it. Wood also releases fragrances and compounds that are often considered pleasant.

Muilu-Mäkelä hopes for more wood reference sites to allow the personal experiences of wood by users to be measured. – The measurement of peoples’ well-being is based on personal experiences, which are connected to physiology. Physiological responses to materials or facilities can be measured in changes in how nervous systems work, for example. Wood is associated with a number of positive concepts such as sympathy, warmth and aesthetics.

– Construction is still based on technical and economic factors that do not factor in well-being. When we can demonstrate that the use of wood in interior decoration, for example, increases well-being, creativity and efficiency, it will produce concrete and economic value.

Muilu-Mäkelä feels more collaboration with architects and more cross-disciplinary research is needed now. – Wood’s effects on well-being are a hot research topic, particularly in Europe. Research is being conducted in a number of countries because although wood’s effects on well-being are well-known, there is still relatively little scientific evidence. Countries with plenty of wood construction in particular can gain a competitive advantage once the beneficial effects of wood on peoples’ well-being are proven and when different products and applications associated with these effects are produced.

– We now need more wood construction reference sites, research on those sites, and resources for that research. Scientific evidence could even be used to create a superwood brand for Finnish wood.

This article is part of a series by Markku Laukkanen and Mikko Viljakainen. The series presents a variety of best practices and trends in the Finnish wood industry. The aim is to spread information about best practices and solutions in the Finnish wood industry to increase its competitiveness and make Finnish expertise more widely known. The articles will be published in Finnish and in English. They will be made freely available for use as source material and for publication as they are. The articles will be distributed as Puuinfo newsletters and will also be published on the puuinfo.fi and woodproducts.fi websites. The article series is funded by the Ministry of the Environment’s Wood Construction Operational Program.