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Archive for September, 2012

I had planned in this post to talk about “restoration” another of biophilia’s “gifts”. Instead, I would like to reflect on a point Tory Hughes makes in her comment on my bush bathing post.

She writes: I’ve always experienced what you described, the calm, healing, tonifying effects of being out in nature, away from machines and power tools and automobiles… but I thought it was a particular quirk of mine.

Tory is far from alone (or quirky) in experiencing nature’s calming effect. As  one of biophilia’s “gifts”, it is potentially available to everyone.

How we come to be “biophilic creatures” able to be calmed and enriched by nature in so many ways is not fully understood. The evidence supports the view that biophilia is innate but it is obvious that it is not present, fully formed , in our brains at birth. How, then, is it formed? In what sense is it innate?

All the children in this picture are clearly “biophilic kids”. Even Pippa, the two-year old delights in nature-play.

As a result of some fascinating research done by Judy De Loache and Vaneesa Lo Buc of the University of Virginia, we can begin to understand how Pippa and her siblings, Lochie, Henry and Annie, have come to be nature lovers. The fact that they are country kids has had a very important bearing but that is far from the full story.

What De Loache and Lo Buc’s work tells us is that the human brain has a “biophilic bias” (My phrase not theirs). Before they can walk and talk, infants:

  • display a preference for animate over inanimate objects
  • can identify animals much quicker than other objects
  • learn emotional responses to living creatures very quickly and permananently

In these and other ways , they have brains that have been “prepared” by evolution to learn about nature and how to behave in it. It is not difficult to understand why the human brain evolved this bias. Those of our ancient forebears who were better at learning about natural environments were more likely to be successful hunters and gatherers and less likely to be some other creature’s meal. They were more likely to survive, reproduce and pass on their nature-biased genes to succeeding generations.

As these “smart” genes accumulated, they gave rise to biased brains that strongly favour the emergence of biophilia. Given appropriate learning environments, the genetic seeds of biophilia will flower. Sadly this does not always happen, but it certainly has for Pippa and Annie. Here they are watching an echidna dig its way to obscurity. What a study of rapt attention! The girls’ interest and delight are obvious

When next you enjoy the calming effects of nature you might like to say thanks to your biased brain.

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