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Elephant in the ward: boredom in hospitals
  1. Elizabeth Mary Burns DPhil
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elizabeth Mary Burns DPhil, Oncology Department, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London NW1 2PG, UK; artoflifeuk{at}, lizzie.burns{at}

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Could hospitals unintentionally be encouraging boredom and its negative psychological effects? The drive for minimalist clinical spaces in adult wards may help support infection control, but how healthy is this for the mind during vulnerable times?

A study was undertaken as long ago as 1957 and described in Scientific American1 in which students volunteered to be put into a bare room. In addition, they were asked to wear a visor and submit to low background noise. Thus deprived of stimulation or interaction, participants were encouraged to use their time constructively in planning projects. Instead, their thinking quickly became disordered, leading to hallucinations and loops of anxious thinking. Despite being allowed to have breaks to go to the toilet and eat, they found the experience distressing and stressful. Those still familiar with this paper tend …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.