Evidence Relating Contact with Nature to Human Health Decline in Contact with Nature in Modern Urban Society and Well BeingFurther Reading

Biophilia is defined here as the inherent human inclination to affiliate with natural systems and processes, most particularly life and life-like (e.g., ecosystems) features of the nonhuman environment. The notion of biophilia advances the idea that people's physical and mental well-being remains reliant on contact with natural systems and processes. This dependency reflects the fact that humans evolved in adaptive response to the fitness and survival requirements of a largely natural and not artificial or human-constructed world. In other words, the evolutionary context for the development of the human mind and body largely was a sensory challenging and diverse natural environment with critical elements being light, sound, odor, wind, vegetation, landscape, water, animals, and more that provided much of the basis for human learning and maturation.

The emergence during the past 5000 years of small-and large-scale agriculture, technology, industry, and the city represents but a small fraction of human evolutionary history. It is unreasonable to assume, thus, that human physical and mental well-being may have escaped the dictates of a largely natural environmental evolutionary context. Yet, many people in modern society assume that human distinctiveness, progress, and civilization reflect our species' capacity to separate from, if not transcend, our biological roots. This entry views this assumption as an illusion, and instead advances the idea that contact with natural systems and processes remains an anvil on which human fitness, health, and productivity continue to be forged, even in an increasingly fabricated urban world.

Biophilia is manifest in a range of genetically encoded tendencies to attach meaning to and derive benefit from, in effect value, the natural world. Nine biological inclinations to value nature have been identified, each reflecting a range of adaptive benefits instrumental in human physical, emotional, and intellectual fitness and well-being. This view of ''the human mind... in evolutionary perspective,'' presumes when these values are adaptively expressed they enhance human performance and development. In other words, these values are regarded as not vestigial in the sense of having evolved in an environmental context no longer relevant to modern life. Collectively, the nine values continue to reflect the richness of the human reliance on natural systems for fitness and security, a web of relational dependency so pronounced an ethic of concern for nature can emerge from a broad understanding of human self-interest from continuing contact with natural systems and processes. Table 1 provides brief definitions of each of the nine values of biophilia and associated adaptive benefits.

Biophilia is, however, a 'weak' biological tendency greatly dependent on learning, experience, and sociocul-tural support to become functionally manifest. The biophilic values are not 'hard-wired' instincts, but rather genetically programmed tendencies that rely on sufficient stimulation and reinforcement to functionally occur, although as 'genetically prepared learning rules' they can be easily triggered and learned relatively quickly. Like so much of what makes humans unique, biophilia is subject to people's choice and free will as they respond to

Table 1 Typology of values of biophilia


Adaptive benefits


Physical appeal and beauty of nature

Inspiration, harmony, security


Mastery and physical control

Physical prowess, self-confidence, mastery skills


Emotional attachment to aspects of nature

Bonding, cooperation, companionship


Spiritual reverence and ethical concern

Order, meaning, kinship


Direct experience and exploration

Curiosity, discovery


Fear and aversion

Security, protection, awe


Systematic and empirical study

Knowledge, understanding, critical thinking skills


Nature in language and expressive thought

Communication, mental development


Practical and material exploitation

Physical sustenance and security

their weak biological urges. We may be born with the inclination to affiliate with natural systems and processes, but this tendency remains nascent and atrophied in absence of stimulation and reinforcement. The 'genius' of humanity is its extraordinary capacity for learning, creativity, and cultural construction in response to weak inherent tendencies. This ability to affirm or deny much of our biology has fostered considerable human invention and the ability to change and progress. Yet, this adaptability and innovative capacity is ultimately subject to the dictates of biology. Not all individual and cultural creations are functional over time, and some eventually prove damaging and destructive. Human creativity and free will is, thus, a two-edged sword, carrying both the potential for positive innovation and negative self-destruction.

As noted, biophilia is highly dependent on learning, experience, and social support to become functionally manifest. Biophilia can, therefore, be classified as a 'bio-cultural' phenomena, where each biophilic value is the product of both genetics and cultural construction. Considerable diversity consequently occurs in the content and intensity of each value in response to the influences of learning, history, and geography. Yet, this variability is bound over time by the requirements of biological fitness. Each value hypothetically occurs along a continuum where considerable 'normal and functional' variation is encountered, but where dysfunction also takes place at the extremes - atrophied development at one end and excessive expression at the other, both resulting in emotional and intellectual deficits and mala-daptive behavior.

The biophilia hypothesis that contact with natural systems and processes fosters human health, productivity, and well-being will be briefly reviewed, drawing largely on evidence from recent conducted scientific studies. Following this review, the article will conclude with a limited discussion of how modern, especially urban, society has increasingly diminished biophilic contact with the natural environment, and how this situation can be improved through a different design approach to the human built environment. The brief review of data bearing on the benefits of contact with nature will focus on studies of outdoor experience, healthcare, work, and community relationships.

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