A classic paper: view of a brick wall or a tree – a measure of boredom?

So much has been happening since my last post, and so much incredible support.  The Anti-boredom Campaign aims to spark research and understanding as well as creating resources.  Over the last few months I’ve read over a hundred papers mostly out of sheer fascination. There is one paper that’s really stood out in my mind from 1984.

Roger Ulrich realised the hospital where he worked was divided between one side looking out onto trees and the other half onto a brown brick wall.  He was curious if a view from a window would have an effect on patients.  To investigate he focused on people who had a cholecystectomy as a standardised operation, and excluded complications and extremes of age, and those with mental health problems.  He was able to retrospectively look back at locations over 9 years as well as outcome, length of stay, amount of analgesics, anti-anxiety medications, complications and nurses notes for 46 patients.   He found no significant differences for anti-anxiety medications. However he found those with a tree view had significantly shorter post-operative stays (7.96 compared to 8.7 days), fewer negative evaluative comments from nurses (1.13 compared to 3.96), took fewer analgesics and slightly lower complications.

What could be the explanation for the difference?  

Ulrich suggests a natural view sustains interest and attention more than an urban view and views of nature may elicit positive feelings to reduce anxiety and stress.  Fascinatingly Ulrich suggests that a brick wall is monotonous but suggests:

“conclusions should not be extended to all built views, nor to other patient groups, such as the long-term patients, who may suffer from low arousal or boredom rather than the anxiety problems typically associated with surgeries”

While Ulrich describes natural views as more interesting and a brick wall as monotonous but seems to suggest beneficial effects may be down to anxiety, even though there wasn’t a difference in anti-anxiety medications between the two groups. While mentioning boredom he seems to dismiss it as relevant to this group of people.

Could the difference between a moving, changing natural scene which is engaging and interesting in comparison to a still, monotonous and dull blank wall be boredom?

Do we start to suffer when faced by a blank wall because we become profoundly bored?   Without anything else to focus on, do we then enter negative mind-wandering and ruminative thoughts?

Did Ulrich measure the effect of boredom in hospital?

Ulrich RS (1984) View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science 224; 420: 1-2


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