UF Researcher: Dorm Room Design Features Affect Psychological Health

August 18, 1998

GAINESVILLE — Looking for a room with a view and good lighting may be as important to students as unpacking the bookcase and microwave when settling into a college dormitory, a new University of Florida study finds.

Having a quiet, brightly lit room with a window view of nature, such as trees or grass, improve the odds a student will make a healthy adjustment to college, said Mike Campbell, a UF graduate student in psychology who did the research for his dissertation.

“When students move into a dorm room they may be conditioned to take what they can get, but perhaps they should pay attention to what they’re being given,” Campbell said. “The living environment — be it light levels, noise levels or view quality — is important for well-being.”

From fall 1996 through summer 1997, Campbell surveyed 184 students at UF, the University of Wyoming and New College of the University of South Florida in Sarasota. Using the standardized College Adjustment Scales, he found that students in campus dormitories and off-campus apartments with certain amenities reported fewer problems in one or more of the following areas: anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

“These psychological problems are significant because something like depression can have more global consequences than simply a blue mood,” Campbell said. “In fact, studies have shown that one’s emotional state can affect thinking, concentration and ultimately a student’s academic performance.”

In one finding, students who could see greenspace from their dorm or apartment window reported feeling less anxiety, he said.

“Other researchers have documented by measuring heart rate and brain waves that greenspace tends to elicit a relaxation response,” he said. “As it turns out, that idea seems to hold true for college campuses.”

Studies have shown that even relatively brief exposures to nature scenes restore people’s ability to concentrate and process information, as well as combat sensory overload, which is why greenspace is so vitally important to cities, Campbell said.

“There is some thought that part of the attraction of scenes of nature, particularly edge environments, between forest and plains, could be because our ancestors evolved in these sorts of landscapes,” he said.

Campbell also found students living in noisier environments did not adjust as easily to college life as those living in quieter places, and students living in well-lit rooms had greater self-esteem than students living in gloomy ones.

Other research has shown light levels tend to affect moods, as in the condition called seasonal affective disorder,’ in which depression sets in during the dark winter months, he said.

“When one considers that the dormitory rooms architects design may be populated by tens of thousands of students over the years, attention to smaller details such as greenspace and the effect of building materials on noise levels may have a truly powerful aggregate impact,” Campbell said.

Architects and staff designing UF residence halls have kept students in mind, said Sharon Blansett, UF’s assistant director of housing for information and communication.

“We’ve done many renovations to make sure that the rooms continue to meet the needs of the students,” Blansett said. “Included in those designs are windows in every room. Many of the residences have beautiful views of campus and our campus has many green spaces. We also have many policies and procedures that protect the student’s environment, including those related to noise levels.”

Blansett, who has worked at campuses around the country, said UF also has a liberal room personalization policy. Within certain guidelines, students may decorate or personalize their rooms, including painting them and building lofts, she said.