Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Final Report Installment I: The Biophilia Hypothesis

The Biophilia Hypothesis in Florence Williams' The Nature Fix

            After her husband’s job promotion led to a move from a home where she had Colorado mountains in her backyard to one where she had a major D.C. airport in her back yard, with planes taking off nearly every minute, Florence Williams developed “nature deficit disorder.” None of the depression treatments her doctor suggested worked, so she decided to look into what her urban environment—especially what it lacked—had to do with the way she was feeling. Hence, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative is a conglomeration of Williams’ research.

            The idea that nature is good for us is an old one, for Aristotle believed that outdoor walks bred clarity. What is new are the scientific studies aimed at uncovering the effects nature has on our health, mood, social skills, memory, and creativity. One example of this is the Mappiness project launched in 2010. Mappiness is an app that collects data by asking volunteer app-users to track their moods and activities twice per day, randomly. It then tags their responses to their GPS location and tracks environmental characteristics like weather too. The researchers found, unsurprisingly, that most participants are much happier in natural than in urban environments.

            Williams’ own exploration takes her to Japan, Korea, Singapore, Scotland, and the U.S., where she meets many different scientists and even volunteers to take part in their research studies. Throughout her experiences, she found that there are two dominant theories for why nature benefits our brains: the biophilia hypothesis and the cognitive hypothesis. In this blog installment, I’ll focus on the first.
            The biophilia hypothesis, formed by the entomologist E. O. Wilson, is that we function better when we incorporate nature into our lives because, since we evolved in nature, we feel most relaxed there. Decreased stress boosts mental health. Moreover, humans, as an evolutionary adaptation, have an emotional connection with every other living thing. Indeed, biophilia means the love of all life, and this adaptation not only helps us survive but also achieve fulfillment. The biophilia hypothesis is a scientific one, for it involves experimentation such as testing blood pressure, pulse rate, prefrontal cortex hemoglobin levels, and cortisol levels in the saliva before and after spending time in, or seeing photos of, the outdoors.
            The origin of biophilia could be that it was a means for our ancestors to recover from traumatic events, such as a dangerous mammoth hunt, the loss of young, or a treacherous cliff trail. After such stressful experiences, our ancestors had to find a way to calm down if they were to be accepted back into their community, without which they could not survive. Hence, the beauty in nature could have helped sooth and calm them, allowing them to regain a sense of hope. If a biophilia trait helped our ancestors survive, then it could have been passed on through subsequent generations.

            Biophilia seems to still be present today. We vacation in the outdoors, children play with stuffed animals, and we find companionship in pets. The biophilia hypothesis is not the only possible explanation for why nature is good for us, though. In the next installment, I will consider the cognitive hypothesis.

Source: Williams, Florence. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and
             More Creative. New York: W.W. Norton &, Independent Since 1923, 2017. Print.
Word Count: 531

Here is my comment on Tanner's post: http://bioethjpo.blogspot.com/2017/04/tanner-everetts-final-report-parts-1.html?showComment=1493088059466#c1543129993696800944

Here is my comment on Sophie's post: https://bioethjpo.blogspot.com/2017/04/final-report-installment-1.html?showComment=1493090754787#c5207154284696662338


  1. I enjoyed project a lot, as I feel I have been experiencing a little bit of "nature deficit disorder" myself lately. I'm from east Tennessee and I used to do some hiking in the Smoky Mountains back home (along with some other activities, mainly snowboarding!) and recently I've just been feeling a bit "down" and missing being able to do those things that I love while I'm here in Murfreesboro. However, after hearing your presentation I decided to simply go for a walk the other day, and it helped tremendously! Perhaps I just needed to get outside some more in general, as its kinda crunch-time right now here at the end of the semester, but just being outside and moving around in the sun really was a great pick-me-up. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I love this study because it seems to be trying to prove something that I just assumed was a universal feeling. Even sitting on a bench in walnut grove for five minutes in between classes can make my day so much better.
    Until you presented on this, I was pretty sure Biophilia was just a word Björk made up. (https://youtu.be/4QGE4su4Eqw)

  4. You're preaching to the choir, but in this age of electronic distraction even self-avowed nature-lovers need reminding. That first image of the jet flyover suggests an aspect of nature whose deficit we tend to overlook, given its null defintion: quiet. (See the CBS Sunday Morning story above.) We've become so "sophisticated and civilized" that our most ingrained instinct for preservation, the perpetual return to the environments that spawned and nurtured us, have been compromised. Thanks for the reminder!

    Another important author on this subject: Richard Louv ("Last Child in the Woods," "Vitamin N," etc.

  5. I feel our reports slightly go hand in hand. As for my book Generosity by Richard Powers, it focuses on wellbeing coming from one's genes or one's environment. As for your report, it focuses on well-being literally from one's surrounding whether it be a natural setting or an urban setting. As for the two hypothesis, I think cognitive hypothesis has more scientific evidence. However, most people would agree with your statement that our need to relax is usually a setting in nature, like the beach. Therefore, the necessity of having a calming nature environment definitely relates to the Biophilia Hypothesis by E. O. Wilson.

  6. Great report. To echo previous comments, I certainly feel time spent outdoors is time well spent. Looking forward to reading the second installment.