Can Hospital Form Trigger Fear Response?

Debajyoti Pati, Michael O’Boyle, Jiancheng Hou, Upali Nanda, Hessam Ghamari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine whether exposure to curve versus sharp contours in the built healthcare setting produces systematic and identifiable patterns of amygdala activation and behavioral response in healthy adults. Background: Recent studies in cognitive neuroscience suggest that humans prefer objects with a curved contour compared with objects that have pointed features and a sharp-angled contour. An implicit perception of threat represented by sharp objects, in humans, was hypothesized to explain this bias. Method: The study adopted a within-subject experimental design, where 36 subjects (representing three age-groups and both sexes) were exposed to a randomized order of 312 real-life images (objects, interiors, exteriors, landscape, and a set of control images). Amygdala activation was simultaneously captured using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology. Subjects’ preference (like/dislike) data were also collected while in the scanner. Data were collected in 2013. Results: In case of images depicting landscape and healthcare objects, brain scans show significant higher amygdala activation associated with sharp contours. However, in relation to images depicting hospital interiors and exterior envelops, brain scans show significant higher amygdala activation associated with curve contours. These activations pertain to exposure during the precognitive stages of the subjects’ perception. Conclusion: Hospital forms do have systematic impact on fear response during precognitive stages of human perception. Whether this first impression colors the subsequent experience of an actual patient with real illness or injury is unknown.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-175
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Environments Research and Design Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2015


  • acute care
  • built form
  • evidence-based design
  • fear response
  • neuro architecture
  • neuro science


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