Biophilia: “our sense of connection to nature and other forms of life.” ~ E.O. Wilson

The Biophilia Theory is supported by decades of research. Robert Ulrich, a Texas A&M researcher, has shown that people who watch images of natural landscapes after a stressful experience calm markedly in only five minutes; their muscle tension, pulse and skin conductance plummets.

Similarly, Gordon Orians, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Washington, says scientific evidence proves that our visual environment profoundly affects our physical and mental health. He says modern humans need to understand what he calls “ghosts,” the evolutionary remnants of past experience hard-wired into the nervous system. Ulrich, Orians, and other researchers have found that people respond strongly and positively to open, grassy landscapes, scattered strands of trees, water, winding trails, brightly lit clearings and elevated views. We are drawn to gentle, natural curves in the land.

The trouble with our modern urban landscape is that it is rapidly being stripped of these elements.

We are continually alert, with little rest, chased by an unending, roaring stampede of 2,000 automobiles. Even inside our homes, the assault continues, charging through the television cable into our living rooms and bedrooms.

photo of art above couch
This moose is a bold statement in a modern space.

Yet these influences can be countered. In the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Howard Frumkin, chairman of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Emory University’s School of Public Health, writes about an overlooked form of therapy. He points to a 10-year study of gallbladder surgery patients, comparing those who recovered in rooms facing a grove of trees with those who recovered in rooms with a view of a brick wall; the patients who looked at trees went home sooner. Another study found that Michigan prison inmates whose cells faced a prison courtyard had 24 percent more illnesses than those whose cells had a view of farmland. Other reports link pet ownership (dogs more than cats) to lower blood pressure and improved survival after heart attacks.

Frumkin’s research has made him a believer in biophilia.

He now suggests that public health experts expand their definition of environmental health, normally associated with the negative, to encompass how the environment can heal. He recommends that environmental health research be done in collaboration with architects, urban planners, park designers, landscape architects and veterinarians. Health professionals can learn a lot from them, he says.

“Some researchers believe that humans have a fundamental, genetically rooted need to affiliate with nature and other life forms. They call this “biophilia. Just looking at photographs of serene natural scenes has some tonic effect, replenishing our cognitive reserves, according to studies. That’s why we put pictures of mountain scenes on our office walls, or use a tropical beach shot as a screensaver.”  ~ from Newsweek February 2009


photo of dining room with art
This bold piece of art ties together several rooms in this home.

First defined and described by Harvard biologist Prof. Edward O.Wilson in 1984, biophilia is the study of the human response to the natural environment and the relationship between humans and natural systems, which is, in its simplest form, a sense of place.
Source: Corey Griffin, Portland State University, “An Introduction to Biophilia and the Built Environment”, Spring 2014 



When Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, scanned the brains of study subjects, he found that viewing art could trigger a surge of the chemical dopamine into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain.  Known as the “feel-good neurotransmitter,” dopamine has been linked to everything from falling in love to warding off depression and even protecting our brains from aging. His series of brain-mapping experiments looked at the increased stimulation and blood flow occurring when participants viewed various photos of art.
Source: Laura Jackson, Mountain Express Magazine, 2016 

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