One of the costs of matrimania – the over-the-top hyping of marriage and weddings and couples – is that so many other profoundly significant relationships and aspects of our lives get underappreciated. That’s why I like to provide forums for discussions of so many of the other valued people and pursuits in all of our lives. It is important to push back against the cultural intoxication that leaves us staggering and stupid when it comes to recognizing everyone and everything that might be significant to us other than romantic partners and bridezilla weddings.
Biophilia is one of those things. I admit that when I first encountered the word I thought it sounded like a disease. It is not. It is instead a truly wonderful thing. The sociobiologist E. O. Wilson wrote a book by that name. He describes biophilia as humans’ “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.” It includes a love of nature and of animals. Wilson provides an evolutionary explanation for biophilia. What interests me more as a social psychologist are the empirical studies of the ways in which living things such as trees and plants and pets make a positive difference in our lives.
As Eleonora Gullone points out in her Journal of Happiness Studies article (yes, there really is a Journal of Happiness Studies), what we know about the power of natural beings and things goes beyond what we can observe about ourselves and our fellow humans – such as our love of beaches, landscapes, national parks, as well as pets. (Fun fact from the article: “…in the United States and Canada, more children and adults visit zoos than attend major professional sporting events combined.”)
Here, for example, are a few of the things we’ve learned from research studies:
- Humans prefer natural scenes to urban ones to such a great extent that there is often little overlap in the ratings of the two kinds of scenes.
- If there is something artificial in the nature scene, we like it less. (My tiny town of Summerland offers spectacular ocean views but many of them are obstructed by power lines.)
- Urban areas with natural elements are good for our moods and even our performance on challenging tasks. Evidence comes from a study in which participants either walked for 40 minutes in an urban setting with lots of trees and other greenery, or walked for 40 minutes in an urban area that was attractive and safe but had few natural elements, or read or listened to music for 40 minutes. The participants who got to walk in the urban space with lots of trees were in a better mood and did better on a cognitive task than the other two sets of participants.
- Views of nature may actually have healing effects. In one relevant study, hospital patients whose room offered a view of trees recovered faster than patients whose window looked out to a brick wall. The patients with the view of nature also needed fewer pain killers.
- If you have a pet, you will not be surprised that research has documented what you probably already surmised. Gullone summarizes the findings this way: “…the presence of an animal increases the social interaction among humans and also the social attractiveness of humans…there are therapeutic mental and physical benefits to be derived from the human-animal relationship.”
I don’t have any pets at the moment, but I hereby declare myself a biophiliac.
More seriously, I wonder whether single people – perhaps especially those who are single-at-heart – are particularly inclined to act on what may be a natural human attraction to nature and living things. Do they spend more time out in nature? Do they bring more natural elements into their homes? I don’t know of any research on those matters.
Girl with her dog image available from Shutterstock.