I shared a recent New Yorker article this week about “How Trees Calm Us Down” that led with a mention of Roger Ulrich’s 1981 study of surgical patients in hospital rooms with views of trees vs. a brick wall.
How is it that 31 years after Ulrich’s study was published in Science, it’s still the go-to reference for talking about the health benefits of nature? There have been other studies on this subject (check out the American Society of Landscape Architects’ website for a comprehensive list). Why does Ulrich’s study have so much staying power?
I decided to read the Science article again.
Now, I’m no researcher, but one of the reasons I think Ulrich’s study comes up over and over again is that it was an extremely well-designed study. The variables — room and window size, arrangement of beds, furniture, and other major physical characteristics are nearly identical in each patient room.
The only thing that was different is what is seen through the window. Trees vs. a brick wall.
The patient population was also the same — all had undergone the same type of gall bladder surgery and were between the ages of 20-69. Any who developed serious complications or had a history of psychological problems were excluded.
The bottom line? Patients with the views of trees had shorter postoperative hospital stays, fewer negative comments from nurses, took fewer drugs, and had slightly lower scores for post surgical complications.
And that’s still pretty powerful data about the health benefits of nature. Even after all these years.
Where is Roger Ulrich Now?
After many years at Texas A&M University, Ulrich moved to Sweden several years ago and is now teaching at Chalmers University of Technology. As the 2015 Changemaker Award winner, he’ll be giving one of the keynote addresses at the Healthcare Design conference in Washington, D.C., in November.
In 2010, I interviewed Ulrich for a piece that was published in Healthcare Design. In it, he talks about the impact of his landmark study — on his career and the industry.
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Photo Credit: Henry Domke