Biophilia or our need to ‘connect’ with nature

The concept of biophilia was first introduced by Erich Fromm in the 1960s and developed in the 1980s by American biologist Edward O Wilson. He suggested that it’s not just that we love all things to do with nature but that we are actually genetically connected to them.

This link possibly explains our need to have flowers and plants around us at home and at work and why we feel so much better when we get out in the garden or go for a walk, cycle or run in the great outdoors.

Benefits of green spaces

An experiment carried out in Edinburgh last year shows this clearly even though it was conducted with a small sample. This latest study used a very small sample but the project leader, Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment confirmed that the findings were strong and indicate that plants have a calming affect on our brains.

The experiment Twelve healthy, young subjects wore portable EEG machines attached to their heads and under their hats. These recorded their brain wave patterns on the laptops in their backpacks. They were sent on a walk of about 1.5 miles around different parts of Edinburgh.Walk in the park

The walk was divided into three roughly equal sections:

  • Through an older, historic shopping district with fine old buildings and plenty of pedestrians and only light traffic 
  • A path through a park
  • A walk through a busy, commercial district with heavy traffic and concrete buildings

Walk in the park

The readings recorded on the laptops showed various patterns representing frustration, directed attention or engagement, mental arousal and calmness. So when the subjects walked through the urbanised areas, especially where there was heavy traffic, their brain waves showed they were more aroused and frustrated than during their walk through the parkland area when the patterns showed a definite calm pattern.

Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment, who oversaw the study commented, “Natural environments still engage the brain, but the attention demanded is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection, and provides a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands of typical, city streets.”

This research confirms that plants help to keep us calm or provide a calm environment for us which is why it is so important to have plants in the workplace. A busy day at work perhaps surrounded by noise of people and/or machines, the pressures of deadlines and more means that we need some space to ‘provide a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands’ of the working day. Adding plants to the workplace and in break-out areas if a way to facilitate this.

Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”

Read the full report here

See 2014 report from Terrapin Bright Green: 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design

Recent research (2015) suggests that the whole biophilia concept helps children's mental cognitive development as well as their memory and attention spans

Research about how trees affect our health has been published this year (2015). It seems that where there are street trees we are healthier.

    Research at the University of Rochester found that nature, inside and out, energises us and is good for our physical   and mental wellbeing.

See our infographic here.

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