It’s Not Just You: What You See Affects How You Feel


I keep on touting this notion that your body loves beautiful imagery, is calmed by it, and your stress levels drop as a result. But who came up with this idea? What is the science exactly?

One big pioneer is Dr. Robert Ulrich, now a significant figure in the evidence-based art world.

He's got a very adult sounding name, but this guy was a kid once too, and had it a little rough with major bouts of kidney disease. In his preteen and teen years, his poor health said ‘You’re grounded!’ (paraphrasing here) and he spent a lot of time at home in bed.

Though sad and frustrated, he remembers feeling comforted by the view of a pine tree outside his window. He said in a Healthcare Design Magazine interview, “I think seeing that tree helped my emotional state.” Cue light bulb.


Okay, I know, who put the ‘science’ in ‘anecdote’? But everybody’s gotta have an inspiring moment right? This man went on to do a pivotal study, which was published in a 1984 issue of Science, called “View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery.

He took a ‘window-view group’ of patients looking at deciduous trees out their hospital window and compared them with a ‘wall-view group’ who literally looked at a brick wall (just the word ‘wall-view’ is making me preemptively not recover as well from future surgeries).

All the patients had the same type of room (apart from view), same nurses, and were all recovering from the same type of gall bladder surgery. Results: The ‘window-view’ group had shorter stays, fewer complications, more positive evaluations from the nurses, and took fewer drugs. This rocked the medical world, and testing from other scientists have shown similar results (yay scientific method!).


The thing is, hospitals can’t just offer a postcard scene for every room; you might be lucky to get a window at all. Architects have gotten involved on an international scale, but these things take geologic time.

Luckily, there is another option (or a great addition even if windows are plentiful) – nature photography! A study in Utah in the 2000s concluded that hospital environment satisfaction is crucial. Today, over 50% of hospitals have art programs designed for patient benefit (and show lower stress and burnout for staff too).

How did we ever think barren, sterile, fluorescent walls would be sufficient? Who would want to be in those other 50% of hospitals? Get your art on! (I can help.)