Nature and Mental Health: Biophilia and Biophobia
Randall White Emory University
Judith Heerwagen Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following natural and human-caused disasters demonstrates the sometimes devastating psychological effects of unusual environmental events. The more subtle psychological responses to the natural world have seldom attracted clinical attention. Given our species' long history as subsistence hunters, gatherers, and farmers, the natural environment must have helped shape our cognitive and emotional apparatus. A growing body of research substantiates that we demonstrate consistency in our psychological responses to animals and landscapes, and that these responses do not depend solely on the cultural or symbolic significance of the objects.
Wilson ( 1984) published an influential book entitled Biophilia, which he defined as "an innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes" (p. 1). He proposed that such a tendency enhanced the fitness of our ancestors and that we have received the legacy: a brain and mind attuned to extracting, processing and evaluating information from the natural world ( Wilson, 1993). These processes operate on a largely unconscious level leaving the mind free to concentrate on complex problems that require decision making ( Orians, 1980). Bowlby ( 1982) brought the evolutionary perspective to psychiatry, but his work focused on human social functioning. Wilson went beyond Bowlby's theory to propose interaction with nature as part of our emotional and behavioral repertoire. This idea is more fully treated by a diverse group of scholars in the book The Biophilia Hypothesis