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Gabe might be the SMARTEST person we’ve ever met. In the span of about 10 minutes, he taught us that he: could name about a zillion different species of dinosaurs…has created his own set of Pokemon characters that are awesomer than Pikachu and Charizard combined…and wants to either be a video-game designer or a paleontologist when he grows up (we know what you’re thinking, we thought Paleontologist was a made up word at first too, but apparently Wikipedia says otherwise). Gabe has been in and out of the hospital for a while now. And being one of the regulars, that means Gabe is forced to sometimes call the hospital “home”. But as he explained to us that, without good color and lighting, hospital rooms aren’t nearly as homey or happy as they could be. That’s a problem…

So here’s what we’re going to do about it:

We’re going to provide children’s hospitals with ART, COLOR, and LIGHT. That’s right: we don’t mean half-flickering artificial bulbs and gray walls that make the room look like it comes straight out of a 60’s horror movie… We’re talking about equipping rooms with the brightest, happiest, most natural lighting these kids have ever seen. Even if that means paying a visit to our old friend, THE SUN. And we’re not stopping there. By the time we’re finished, these rooms are going to be so ridiculously colorful that the nurses will have trouble convincing the kids that they’re still in the hospital and haven’t been magically transported to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. After all, they deserve it…they’re the bravest kids on the planet.

Why Art, Light, and Color Matter (the science)

The creative use of visual art, light, and color can dramatically change the hospital environment. These elements help to transform surroundings from drab, dreary, and uninviting to vibrant, cheery, and bright. The effect of a healing environment on patient health has become a topic of much interest among researchers, health professionals, and patient advocates over the last few decades.

Well-designed health care environments are associated with numerous positive effects, including reduced stress and anxiety, reduced pain, improved sleep quality, and improved patient satisfaction (Ulrich, 2001). The optimal design for pediatric wards involves both physical and non-physical elements to aid in the recovery process (Abbas and Ghazali, 2010). Pediatric patients are more sensitive than adults in their perception of the environment (Ozcan, 2006). Special consideration must therefore be given to pediatric spaces in hospitals. Art, light, and color have each been found to have significant effects on patient outcome and satisfaction.

Art is an important component of a healing environment. Many researchers have explored the effectiveness of visual art in the hospital setting and found a range of health-related benefits (Ulrich, 2001; Eisen, et al., 2008; Lankston, et al., 2010). Artwork serves as a positive distraction, which is a major component of supportive design (Ulrich, 2001). Ulrich found that positive distractions such as visual art have significant stress-reducing effects for hospitalized patients. Art can serve as a connection to nature, animals, and happy faces, which have been shown to improve overall mood (Ulrich, 1991). In a study specific to the pediatric population, Eisen, et al., (2008) assessed the stress-reducing effects of art in pediatric healthcare and found that children and adolescents consistently prefer nature art. In a large review of visual art in hospitals, Lankston, et al., (2010) found that landscape and nature scenes are the most preferred among hospitalized patients. These particular scenes most consistently serve as positive distraction and create a state of calm in patients. Furthermore, Lankston, et al., (2010) concluded that visual art in hospitals can provide numerous positive effects, including improved well-being, reduced length of hospital stay, and improved pain tolerance.

Light is a fundamental element of a positive environment. Light exposure can derive from natural or artificial sources and has been associated with improvements in mood. Beauchemin and Hays (1996) found that sunny hospital rooms shortened the length of hospital stay for patients with depression. Exposure to sunlight was associated with expedited recovery from depressive symptoms. A 2005 study found that bright light significantly reduced stress and analgesic medication use by 22% (Walch, et al., 2005). Overall, the patients who looked out on sunlight had more favorable outcomes compared to those looking out on cloudy or drab conditions (Beauchemin and Hays, 1996).

Color is another crucial component of the pediatric healing environment. Color can brighten a hospital room, making it more visually pleasing. Park (2007) investigated the color preferences of pediatric patients and found that the use of color created more pleasing environments for patients and families. He assessed the color preferences of healthy children, pediatric inpatients, and pediatric outpatients, and found no significant differences among groups. Thus, research about color preferences in healthy children may be applied to the pediatric patient population as well. Park also determined that blue and green were the most preferred colors, while white was the least preferred. Similarly, Lankston, et al., (2010) noted that blues and greens were the predominant hues in the most popular artwork among hospitalized patients. Overall patient satisfaction of the hospital environment can be positively influenced by color.

Conclusion: Visual art, light, and color positively affect patient outcome and satisfaction. These elements should be fully incorporated into the design and decoration of pediatric hospital spaces.

Contributing Authors: Marley E Burns and Oren J Mechanic

Last Revised January 13, 2012.


Abbas MY, Ghazali R. Healing environment of pediatric wards. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2010;5:948-957.

Beauchemin KM, Hays, P. Sunny hospital rooms expedite recovery from severe and refractory depressions. Journal of Affective Disorders. 1996;40: 49-51.

Eisen SL, Ulrich RS, Shepley MM, Varni JW, Sherman S. The stress-reducing effects of art in pediatric health care: art preferences of healthy children and hospitalized children. Journal of Child Health Care. 2008;12(3):173-190.

Lankston L, Cusack P, Fremantle C, Isles C Visual art in hospitals: case studies and review of the evidence. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2010;103: 490-499.

Park JG. Environmental color for pediatric patient room design. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. 2007.

Ozcan H. Healing design: A holistic approach to social interaction in pediatric intensive care units in the United States and Turkey. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. 2006.

Ulrich RS. Effects on interior design on wellness: theory and recent scientific research. Journal of Health Care Interior Design. 1991;3: 97-109.

Ulrich RS. Effects of healthcare environmental design on medical outcomes. In A Dilani (Ed.) Design and Health: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Health and Design. Stockholm, Sweden: Svensk Byggtjanst. 2001. 49-59.

Walch JM, Rabin BS, Day R, Williams JN, Choi K, Kang JD. The effect of sunlight on postoperative analgesic medication use: a prospective study of patients undergoing spinal Surgery. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2005;67(1): 156-163.