Both of these pictures were taken from the same hospital room. As such rooms go, it was well appointed and comfortable, but with a regrettable feature. When you sat in the visitor’s chair located at the end of the patient’s bed, this is the view you got through the window.
There is no prize for guessing that the view of the trees is the one most likely to speed recovery.
This was demonstrated in a classic study which investigated whether the view through a window influenced recuperation from surgery. Patients undergoing cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal) in a Pennsylvania hospital had postoperative care on one of two floors. On one floor, the rooms looked at a brown brick wall. On the other, the view took in a small stand of deciduous trees. Rooms were essentially identical apart from the view.
Patient records were matched for all sorts of possible confounding factors, and then the 23 pairs of patient records were analysed and compared.
Patients with the tree view spent one day fewer in hospital, required lower doses of analgesics and were more likely to have an uncomplicated passage to recovery.
Robert Ulrich, the scientist who conducted the study believes that the view of trees had a calming effect which aided the healing process. This is a highly plausible explanation given what we now know about the damaging impact that stress can have on recovery from injury and illness and the experience of pain.
Why nature has a de-stressing effect is not known for certain. But what we do know is that the features of natural settings that are most calming are also those we most like to look at and be near. Such places invite us to relax, possibly because we feel secure or “at home” there. Whatever the reason, I know that within seconds of setting out on a walk in the bush, I start to sing or hum a snippet from my favourite opera, La Bohemé. It is as if a switch is turned on in my head. What is happening, I am sure, is that I begin to unwind emotionally and the music, which I associate with pleasure and relaxation, springs into my mind. It is intriguing how quickly and reliably this happens.