With studies showing a direct connection between the content of images and the brain’s reaction to pain, stress, and anxiety, hospitals are choosing artwork based on the evidence and giving it a higher priority than just decorating rooms and hallways.

“These are not just accoutrements or aesthetics anymore,” says Lisa Harris, a nephrologist and chief executive of Eskenazi Health, affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Research suggests people are positively affected by nature themes and figurative art with unambiguous, positive faces that communicate a sense of security and safety.

A 2011 study found that nature images helped calm restless behavior and noise levels in 2 Texas emergency department waiting rooms. A 1993 study found that patients exposed to a nature image experienced less postoperative anxiety and were more likely to switch to weaker painkillers than those who viewed an abstract image or no image.

Heather Kreinbrink says when her daughter Allison had a stroke at age 12 in 2010 and was hospitalized for a week, she and her husband, Rod, found looking at an art installation outside the children’s wing at Cleveland Clinic gave them a sense of calm amid their fear and exhaustion.

“It ended up being something we would go to every day for peace and to come to terms with what was happening,” she says.

When Allison was discharged, her parents brought her to see it. “It made me think as I saw other kids being pushed in wheelchairs by their parents, how awesome it is to be able to have something like that to take your mind off everything you are going through,” says Allison, now 16.

Jeffrey Rothenberg, an obstetrician and gynecologist and chief medical officer at Indiana University Health’s University Hospital, says he learned to make glass art himself as a stress reliever. He is chairman of a public art committee for Indiana University School of Medicine’s Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute that called on artists with ties to Indiana to create works for a building devoted to vision.

Anne Berry, a patient at Eskenazi Health, visits the hospital for procedures and tests such as a mammogram. She has “white coat syndrome,” which makes her nervous about going to a doctor, but she says, “I have found the art and the environment at Eskenazi makes it less stress-inducing for me.”     wsj.com    8/18/14

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