Ellen Vincent

The artwork in your hospital room may affect your mood, which can result in positive health outcomes, according to Ellen Vincent’s latest research.

“People felt better when they had the image as opposed to people who didn’t have an image,” said Vincent, a researcher in the School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, about her experiment. “If people feel better, they may heal faster. That’s documented in the literature.”

In her study, the most effective landscape pictures had both a physiological and psychological impact on patients, reducing blood pressures and increasing positive measurements on the Profile of Mood States scale.

While the images used in the study were specially selected by the prospective population through a sort and rank task — a unique feature of the project- all the images shared common elements drawn from the experiment’s theoretical basis. According to Appleton’s prospect refuge theory, features like a clear and unobstructed view and the presence of shelter or hiding spaces make images appealing because of their age-old importance to survival during the hunter-gatherer stage of human development. Thus, the images placed in hospital rooms contained both traits.

“If we know what category of images is most therapeutic for people in pain, we can then assemble whole collections of these images for people to see while they recuperate. We’d have to measure it, but I think that there’s a good chance that that would be a tool to help people to get out of a hospital faster,” said Vincent.

In light of existing research and her own findings, Vincent has concerns about the artwork used in healthcare facilities.

”Some hospitals will promote local artists or donated works without having studied the impact of the style of art on patients or stressed workers or visitors. Abstract art has been found to be stressful for people in pain or high stress,” said Vincent.

Vincent’s work may also have implications for both landscaping viewed through hospital windows and landscaping across campus.

“Our environments affect how we think and act. They aren’t the only tool that affect how we think and act, but they are an influence and worthy of our consideration and our intelligence,” said Vincent. “If the money is not put in for the maintenance of landscapes [at Clemson], we’re stretching our good resources in ways that are just cruel. Healthy landscapes include more than just design and installation; they include quality maintenance.”

In addition to her recent hospital study, Vincent has collaborated with Cheryl Dye of Clemson’s public health sciences department in studying what images are most therapeutic for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They found that the patients responded best to images that they could associate with their childhood.

Vincent also hopes to integrate her findings into a new project that would measure the psychological and physiological differences in stress experienced by students in a classroom without windows and in garden setting, such as the Sustainable Landscape Demonstration Garden located in the Agriculture Quad.

“I’ve always felt drawn to nature as a therapeutic tool. When I’m outdoors, I’ve always felt like I can breathe better and have less tension,” said Vincent. “So if there are ways to bring that knowledge inside to make smooth transitions between interiors and exteriors, I think that we can create a culture and an environment where people can feel better and make better decisions.”

–Ashley Hedrick, Class of 2016