Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Biophilia hypothesis and emotion

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Biophilia hypothesis and emotion:
What are the emotional implications of the BH and how can this be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

A nice natural environment[vague]

What is the biophilia hypothesis? What is the converse of biophilia? What effect does biophilia have on people’s health particularly mental health? Biophilia is the innate tendency for humans to positively associate with nature. Biophobia is the opposite of biophilia, that is, it is the fear of natural environments. Connecting with nature has many health benefits including physiological and psychological benefits[vague].  Many studies have found that having natural elements (e.g., plants) in work-spaces reduces stress as well as exercising in natural environments.  Biophilia is also connected to conservation ethics. If biophilia is high within people it is said to have a positive impact on an individual's willingness and general attitudes to conserve.

What is the biophilia hypothesis?[edit | edit source]

E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis is that humans have a innate tendency to pay attention to, associate with or react to nature in a positive way (Kellert & Wilson, 1993).  Wilson (1996) suggested that when individuals separate themselves from natural environments biophilic learning is not exchanged for modern technologies rather biophilic tendencies carry on from generation to generation.   Thus, the biophilia hypothesis argues for a genetic influence on the way humans react to nature  (Kellert & Wilson, 1993).  The Biophilia Hypothesis suggests that human identity and self-fulfillment rely on our relationship with nature (Jordan, 2009), and this suggests that human relationships with nature can strengthen people's physical [missing something?] psychological well-being (Heinsch, 2011). Researchers have established some evidence that any contact, even minimal, with nature improves productivity and health in the workplace, boosts healing of patients in hospitals, and can even minimize illnesses in prisons (Kahn, 1997).

Biophilia potentially begins at birth, thus it is important that an infant experiences nature in a pleasant environment[factual?].  If nature has not been experienced in a positive way during this time the child will likely lack positive feelings, such as love, towards nature[factual?].  Biophilia in young people requires enthusiastic assistance and participation from parents, grandparents, and caring adults (Orr, 2004).   

Evolutionary perspective[edit | edit source]

In our evolutionary history vegetation was a significant component for human survival, since it gave humans a food source, and a source of shelter.  The presence of plants in our evolutionary history, would presumably indicate that vegetation are a fundamental part of the human Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation, or EEA, and may have an impact on the evolution of the human brain[factual?].  EEA is used to describe the characteristics of the environment that humans are adapted to live in. Irregularities from the way of life we were genetically designed to deal with are called mismatches.  Some mismatches are favourable. For example, sleeping in a bed is more comfortable than sleeping on hard ground.  Other mismatches are not so favourable, as they cause negative impacts on people; discord is used to describe this (Grinde & Patil, 2009)[for example?]. Furthermore, there could potentially be a genetic influence of biophilia[vague].  DNA of humans is arranged in a certain way to allow humans, along with other organisms, to live in specific conditions. Thus, in the right environmental conditions humans tend to have an improved mental and physical state (Grine, 2002).

If there is a genetic influence on the way people react to nature it is because a predisposition in our ancestors for biophilic responses to specific natural elements that contributed to fitness and the chances for survival.  Kellert and Wilson (1993) identified the various adaptive responses to the natural world in human evolution.  There is the biophilic response to certain natural elements, that is the individual responds to the stimuli in a positive and approachable way, and the biophobic response, where the individual responds in a negatively [missing something?] and with avoidance.   This means that in our evolutionary history there were both dangers and advantages in the natural world.

Zhang, Goodale, and Chen (2014) conducted a study on 1,119 children aged 9-10 from 15 different primary schools in all parts China in order to better understand contact with nature and how that affects biophobia, biophilia and conservation attitude in children.  Zhang and colleagues created a questionnaire that addressed firstly the child’s contact with nature; secondly children’s biophilia and biophobia; thirdly the child’s readiness to conserve nature; and lastly the child’s attitude towards animal conservation.  These constructs were measured using a Likert-like three-point scale, which involves showing the young participants emotive face symbols and asking them to write something about each of these symbols. This study found that children from rural areas generally had higher contact with nature.  Contact with nature also seemed to have a positive impact on children’s biophilia, which had a notable effect on the child’s willingness to conserve, and also a small effect on their general attitudes towards conservation. Although contact with nature did not have this effect on conservation ethics, rather it was related to biophilia[grammar?]

Biophobia[edit | edit source]

Image of a tarantula - most people have a biophobic reaction to this animal[factual?]

Humans are most likely to form a phobia or fear of stimuli that pose a threat or posed as a threat in our evolutionary history,[grammar?] for example many people are afraid of spiders, snakes, lions, heights, closed spaces etc.  This fear of natural elements is called Biophobia (Gullone, 2000).  Biophobia is prevalent among people growing up with TVs, phones, video games, and in urban/suburban areas with large shopping centres and busy highways, where nature, mostly plants and flowers, is purely for decoration purposes[factual?]. Biophobia ranges from feeling uncomfortable in natural settings to utter contempt for anything that is not manmade (Orr, 1994). It is therefore been[grammar?] suggested that humans or other organisms are predisposed to fear specific natural stimuli (referred to as prepared) and are predisposed to learn and retain affiliations with nature that increase survival.  The fact that fears emerge at specific ages, even in the absence of the dangerous stimuli that is involved, provides support for the prepared theory (Gullone, 2000).

Recent studies [factual?] have found that our conditioned physiological defense responses to modern dangers (such as guns) may in due course be forgotten, however human responses to dangers, such as fear of snakes and spiders, of evolutionary importance will not be forgotten.  This is because of the genetic imprint of biophilia and biophobia, that has been incorporated into our DNA. These genetic imprints on our DNA lead to the survival and natural selection of humans in our evolutionary history, while modern dangers have not been imprinted in our DNA yet (Simaika & Samways, 2010).

Example of a biophobic stimulus (snakes): Wilson proposed that snakes were likely to be life-threatening, but not necessarily fatal, to humans, particularly in hunter-gatherer civilizations, in our human evolutionary history.  So let's[grammar?] contemplate an Ulrich’s (1993) example of an early human in one of these societies who was bitten by a venomous snake.  If the bite proved fatal to the victim it would have no adaptive benefit, however if the bite was not fatal the victim would likely respond with fear and avoidance next time it came across a snake.  Within the society, other members who witnessed the pain the victim went through and fatal consequences of the bite would probably respond with the same fear and avoidance as the victim.

View of a wetland savannah landscape

Savannah theory[edit | edit source]

Orians and Heerwagen (1992) proposed that people favour savannah like environments, that is people generally respond positively to these environments even without having direct contact or being in the savannah’s[grammar?].  They found that if humans have an “intrinsic bias” for specific landscapes or landscape features then we can see this when these features are added to environments,[grammar?] for example Humphrey Repton (landscape arechitect) added trees, that are similar to those you’d find in the savannah, to make this land more aesthetically pleasing.  It was found that people preferred savannahs in the wet season more than savannahs in the dry season[factual?].  They also found that people generally find rain forests, with high tree trunks and dense vegetation, and deserts the least appealing since these environments were unlikely to contribute to the survival of our ancestors[grammar?].

Psychological and emotional health benefits[edit | edit source]

Before we go on to the health benefits of biophilia and nature, what it actually means to be healthy should be defined.  The World Health Organization (WHO) established a definition of health, which includes physiological and psychological components. They defined health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (Hartig et al., 2011).  As most research on the health benefits of biophilia include the reduction of stress, it is important to know what stress is. Stress is how a person reacts to behavioural, psychological and physiological situations that threaten an individual’s well being.  Behavioural situations often include avoidance, drug use (e.g. alcohol and smoking), and reduced cognitive performance.  The psychological component includes cognitive assessment of the stressful situation, emotions (e.g. fear, anger and sadness), and coping strategies.  Finally the physiological component is the response to stress in many bodily structures, for instance the cardiovascular system, skeletomuscular and neuroendocrine system.  All these systems have a mobilizing effect for managing the stressful stimulus, as this effect uses a lot of energy and if this energy is used over a long period of time it can lead to exhaustion (Ulrich et al., 1991).

A woman who is portraying the emotion of stress

Humans, along with other animals, living under unnatural environments has had notable consequences on the physical and mental health of people (Grinde, 2002).  Thus, it is critical that people associate with nature, to improve their mental and physical health.  Association with nature has many psychological benefits including reducing stress, improving attention, has a strong positive impact on mental rehabilitation, and also helps with coping mechanisms for attention deficit disorders.  There also seems to be a number of physical health benefits, which includes increased longevity and better self-reported health. Ulrich suggests some possible advantages to nature: First, nature correlates with physical activity, which is crucial for the health of humans; second, nature often involves socialising, which can potentially improve health; and lastly, nature allows people to escape their everyday lives for relaxation (Grinde & Patil, 2009).

Psychological restoration[edit | edit source]

Preferences for natural environments may have an innate foundation, since we probably have a tendency to respond favourable to environments that were beneficial to the survival of our ancestors.  These tendencies allow for restoration, which is the process of which an individual gets back the different kind of resources lost while trying to reach the demands of day-to-day life.   These different kind of resources include:

  • Physiological: the capacity to focus on tasks, even with distractions that make it difficult to pay attention
  • Social: the willingness of family and friends to give help

If resources are not replenished psychological and physiological problems may arise, thus it is beneficial for an individual to restore the resources they have lost (Hartig et al., 2011).  That’s where natural environments

A number or studies have demonstrated that indoor plants improve the attractiveness of a room that has no windows that overlook vegetation.  One study found that hospital rooms with indoor plants or images of plants reduced self-reported stress.  While other studies found that plants in a windowless work space reduced stress (Grinde & Patil, 2009).  Another study had Ulrich and collegues (1991) examine the effects of natural and urban environments to reduce stress. They conducted a study on 120 individuals (60 male, 60 female) in which subjects were shown a stressful video (about 10 minutes), and later shown either a video of natural environments or a video of urban environments.  Data was obtained through self-report, heart rate, skin conductance, muscle tension and pulse.  They found that those shown the video of nature after the stressful movie had better stress recovery than those who were shown a video of urban surroundings.

Another study Hartig and colleagues looked at the restorative effects of physical exercise in a parklike natural environment in urban areas.  In their study they gave each participant a challenging cognitive task and then measured the recovery effects of (a) a 40 minute walk in an area which was dominated by trees and vegetation, (b) a 40 minute walk in an urban area, or (c) reading or listening to music for 40 minutes.  Unsurprisingly those who went on the nature walk reported more positivity and did better on cognitive tasks than those allocated to the other stress recovery groups (Hartig, Mang, & Evans, 1991).

Attitudes towards nature[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

The preference for nature[edit | edit source]

Birkenhead Lake in Canada

Numerous studies conducted on adults from all over the world have demonstrated that photographs of natural landscapes earn higher ratings of preference than photographs of urban scenes (van den Berg, Hartig, & Staats, 2007).   For instance in the United States and Canada people visit zoos more than they attend major sporting events (Wilson, 1996).  Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) found that water is a pleasant element to pictures and natural surroundings, whether it is fast flowing or slow-moving water, lakes, rivers, ponds or streams, or oceans.  In fact people spend large amounts of money to live in water view homes, some people might live in these homes to be closer to water sports, but Kaplan and Kaplan found that people may never or rarely have contact with water, rather the view provides people with enjoyment. In fact many people from urbanized communities believe that contact with nature improves their health and well-being by reducing stress and fatigue{{}}.  These beliefs are a strong motivator for outdoor recreation.  The greatest motivators for out [missing something?] recreation include stress reduction, ‘clearing the head’, escaping ‘life’, and reflecting life decisions (van den Berg, Hartig, & Staats, 2007).   Kaplan and Kaplan found that for the most part people prefer natural environments more than built environments with natural elements such as water bodies, trees, plants, flowers and etc.  People also prefer built environments with these properties over built environments without these characteristics (Kahn, 1997).   Furthermore, a [vague] number studies have demonstrated that indoor plants improve the attractiveness of a room that has no windows that overlook vegetation.  One study found that hospital rooms with indoor plants or images of plants reduced self-reported stress[factual?][Provide more detail].  While numerous other studies found that plants in a windowless workspace reduced stress (Grinde & Patil, 2009).

Attention restoration theory[edit | edit source]

Attention restoration theory (ART) proposes that extended use of directed attention reduces an individual’s ability to avoid distractions.  Which has consequences on the individual who may then have difficulty concentrating, increased irritability which then leads to an increase of mistakes on tasks that demand concentration.  These people also have a greater risk experiencing stress. ART states that nature has the right set of circumstances for psychological restoration; there are several reasons for why this occurs.  First, being in natural environments allows the person to feel a sense of ‘being away’ from daily regimens; second, nature has aesthetically pleasing stimuli, which encourages soft fascination - natural elements that engage and hold an individuals attention effortlessly and is involuntarily; second is the ability to ‘recharge’ directed attention; and lastly, in nature what a person wants to do in the environment is in union with what the environment requires – meaning the individual has a high degree of compatibility (van den Berg, Hartig, & Staats, 2007).

Human-nature Relationship (nine perspectives)[edit | edit source]

Kellert (1993) recognized and described the general human-nature relationships and he describes this in nine perspectives: utilitarian; naturalistic; ecologistic-scientific; aesthetic; symbolic; humanistic; moralistic; dominionistic; and negativistic.

  • The utilitarian perspective can be defined as the as the practical and material use of nature.  Utilitarian provides an individual with physical support and safety.
    • Affective utilitarian and aesthetic elements are important for describing the type of support people show for the conservation of nature, especially when they don’t have much knowledge about species.
  • The naturalistic perspective is the happiness people feel from direct exposure or contact with nature.  Nature is considered in awe and wonder. In the naturalistic perspective an individual is curious about their natural surroundings and the main function of this perspective is to provide an individual with outdoor skills and allows for mental and physical development.
  • The ecologistic-scientific perspective is the study of the structure and function of nature and also the human relationship with nature. So as you might expect this provides us with knowledge and understanding of nature.
    • Ecological-scientific factors emerge when people have thorough knowledge of the environment or specific species concerned, which is important for the type of support that is shown to conservation
  • The aesthetic perspective is the physical attractiveness of nature, which allows people to become inspired, and allows for peace and security.
    • It is the preference for natural environments or elements of urbanized designs which supports the idea of biophilia. Aesthetic attractiveness/interest of animals to humans is largely based on the physical appearance of the animal.
    • The most appealing traits include large size, youthful appearances, and the resemblance to human shape, posture, locomotion, surface texture and colour.
  • The symbolic perspective involves the use of nature for metaphors, language and expressive thought.  The symbolic perspective provides communication for people and also metal development.
  • The humanistic perspective entails people experiencing strong affection, emotional attachment, and ‘love’ towards nature, in other words people feel emotionally connect to nature.  The humanistic perspective allows people to bond, share, and cooperate in groups and allows for companionship.  The moralistic perspective is the empathy people show to nature and the spiritual worship and ethical concern for nature.
  • The dominionistic perspective is the physical control and dominance an individual has over nature.  This gives an individual mechanical skills and physical prowess in nature.
  • The negativistic perspective is the fear and dislike of nature, which provides an individual with protection and safety.

Attitudes towards conservation[edit | edit source]

Attitudes and support for the wilderness fluctuate a fair bit among ethnic, age and regional groups and other factors such as distance from wilderness areas and professional background also have a significant impact on attitudes towards nature (Bauer, Wallner, & Hunziker, 2009).  Having an understanding about a specific animal or environment does not predict whether or not the individual shows concern to or care about the animal or environment.  Rather it is emotion and moral beliefs, that is a good predictor of behaviour towards natural environments (Myers, Saunders, & Birjulin, 2004).

Mountain forests in Switzerland

The nine human-nature relationship perspectives mentioned above have a significant impact on the attitudes towards conservation.  A study conducted by Bauer, Wallner and Hunziker (2009) in Switzerland, which looked at attitudes towards wilderness and rewilding.  The study involved a questionnaire mailed to 4000 people from all parts of the country, including the French, German and Italian speaking regions of Switzerland.  However only 1536 people participated in the questionnaire.  The questionnaire included (1) questions that can evaluate attitudes towards nature, (2) questions that can evaluate attitudes towards wilderness and rewilding, and (3) questions that could find any socio-demographic variables.  Bauer and others suggested that ‘nature-connected users’ feel emotionally connected to nature, so they show utilitarian, moralistic and naturalistic perspectives and show both biophilic and biophobic responses; the ‘nature-sympathizers’ have a poor emotional attitude towards nature; the ‘nature lovers’ show moralistic, naturalistic and humanistic human-nature relationships and have biophilic responses; and lastly the ‘nature controllers’ show dominionistic tendencies because they have conservation ideas and have biophobic responses.  The German-speaking part of Switzerland showed more positive attitude towards wilderness and rewilding, and the French and Italian speaking areas showed more negative attitudes along with those from rural areas. If rewilding is to happen than it is much more likely to happen in the countryside rather than urban areas and the German-speaking parts, however the French-speaking participants had a more negative attitude towards the expansion of wilderness.  The German-speaking participants have the feeling of belongingness in nature, the French find it threatening, and the Italians associate with nature for aesthetic reasons.  Lastly the questionnaire found that across all demographics of Switzerland there was a significant amount of positivity for having rules and regulations in wilderness areas.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The biophilia hypothesis, as suggested by E.O. Wilson[factual?], states that humans have an innate tendency to interact and associate with nature.  Since biophilia is potentially innate, there is likely to be genetic influences on the way humans react to nature.  Furthermore, if biophilia is innate then it is because of our human evolutionary history. So if we have biophilic responses to certain environmental stimuli it is because it was probably crucial for the survival of early humans, for example water which provided humans with water and food sources.  If we have biophobic responses it is most likely due to detrimental effects on humans, for example snakes which have the potential to kill or severely injure someone.

Biophilia and association with nature has many benefits, particularly on the health and well-being of humans.  People who associate with nature have proven to have faster psychological restoration, than those who stay in urban environments with little to no plants and other vegetation.  Association with nature has significant impact on reducing stress and allowing for the restoration of attention.

Kellert recognised nine human-nature relationships, (1) the utilitarian perspective, (2) the naturalistic perspective, (3) the ecologisitc-scientific perspective, (4)the aesthetic perspective, (5) the symbolic perspective, (6) the humanistic perspective, (7) the moralistic perspective, (8) the dominionistic perspective, (9) the negativistic perspective.  These relationships have a significant impact on the attitudes of conservation.

Quiz questions[edit | edit source]

1 Out of these natural settings, which do humans prefer?

Savannah’s in the dry season
Savannh's in the wet season

2 The ________ perspective is the perceived physical attractiveness of nature.


3 Who proposed the savannah theory?

Kellert & Wilson
Orians and Heerwagen

4 Which of these is the naturalistic perspective?

Humans feel emotionally connected to nature
Nature is considered in awe and wonder (it makes them happy)
The physical attractiveness of nature
The use of nature for metaphors, language and expressive thought

5 Attention restoration theory proposes that

contact with nature allows for the reduction of stress in people
extended use of directed attention reduces an individual’s ability to avoid distractions
humans prefer natural environments more than unnatural environments
humans prefer urban environments more than natural environments

See also[edit | edit source]

Nature and psychological well-being

Nature and emotion

References[edit | edit source]

Bauer, N., Wallner, A., & Hunziker, M. (2009). The change of European landscapes: Human-nature relationships, public attitudes towards rewilding, and the implications for landscape management in Switzerland. Journal Of Environmental Management, 90(9), 2910-2920.

Grinde, B. & Patil, G. (2009). Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being?. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 6(9), 2332-2343.

Grinde, B. (2002). Happiness in the perspective of evolutionary psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(4), 331-354.

Gullone, E. (2000). The Biophilia Hypothesis and Life in the 21st Century: Increasing Mental Health or Increasing Pathology?. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 1(3), 293-322.

Hartig, T., van den Berg, A. E., Hagerhall, C. M., Tomalak, M., Bauer, N., Hansmann, R., ... & Bell, S. (2011). Health benefits of nature experience: Psychological, social and cultural processes. In Forests, trees and human health (pp. 127-168). Springer Netherlands.

Hartig, T., Mang, M., & Evans, G. (1991). Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences. Environment And Behavior, 23(1), 3-26.

Heinsch, M. (2011). Getting down to earth: Finding a place for nature in social work practice. International Journal Of Social Welfare, 21(3), 309-318.

Jordan, M. (2009). Back to nature. Therapy Today, 20(3), 26-28.

Kahn, P. (1997). Developmental Psychology and the Biophilia Hypothesis: Children's Affiliation with Nature. Developmental Review, 17(1), 1-61.

Kaplan, R. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kellert, S. & Wilson, E. (1993). The Biophilia hypothesis. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. Kellert, S. R. 1993. The biological basis for human values of nature. Pages 42–69 in S. Kellert and E. O. Wilson, editors. The biophilia hypothesis. Island Press, Washington, D.C. Myers, O., Saunders, C., & Birjulin, A. (2004). Emotional Dimensions of Watching Zoo Animals: An Experience Sampling Study Building on Insights from Psychology. Curator: The Museum Journal, 47(3), 299-321.

Orr, D. W. (1993). Love it or lose it: The coming biophilia revolution. The biophilia hypothesis, 415-440.

Orr, D. W. (2004). Love it or lose it: The coming biophilia revolution. Earth in Mind, 131-151.

Ovians, G. H. & Heerwagon, J. H. (1992). Evolved responses to landscapes. The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture, 555-579

SIMAIKA, J. & SAMWAYS, M. (2010). Biophilia as a Universal Ethic for Conserving Biodiversity. Conservation Biology, 24(3), 903-906.

Ulrich, R.S.: 1993, ‘Biophilia, biophobia, and natural landscapes’, in S.R. Kellert and E.O. Wilson (eds.), The Biophilia Hypothesis (Island Press, Washington DC), pp. 73–137.

Ulrich, R., Simons, R., Losito, B., Fiorito, E., Miles, M., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 11(3), 201-230.

van den Berg, A., Hartig, T., & Staats, H. (2007). Preference for Nature in Urbanized Societies: Stress, Restoration, and the Pursuit of Sustainability. Journal Of Social Issues, 63(1), 79-96.

Wilson, E. (1996). In search of nature. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Zhang, W., Goodale, E., & Chen, J. (2014). How contact with nature affects children’s biophilia, biophobia and conservation attitude in China. Biological Conservation, 177, 109-116.

External Links[edit | edit source]

Britannica guide to the biophilia hypothesis