What is it?
Biophilia is defined as the "rich, natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms." Edward O. Wilson popularized the concept when he realized the consequences of our departure from nature during the industrial revolution, and subsequently pioneered the school of thought focusing on the need to bring humans back in contact with nature.
Since then, there have been countless studies on the positive effects of connecting with nature in our everyday life, and it makes sense. We feel it when we hike through large evergreen forests or post an Instagram of the first snow on the mountain. Architects and urban planners are trying to recreate this feeling more and more within our urban communities, as evidenced by the growing popularity in living walls and green roofs (over 600,000 square feet of green roofs were installed across North America in 2015). However, the how of biophilia is less known by the average human. How does it effect the brain? What are its economic effects? Read on to get the low down.
The idea of biophilia is that we as humans have a biological need for connection with nature on a physical, mental, and social level. How does that interaction look inside your body? You have your sympathetic (known as the “fight or flight”) system and your parasympathetic (known as your body’s “rest and digest”) system, and when these are balanced you reach a perfect state homeostasis. When you are in chaotic, unsettling environments your sympathetic system is heightened and it causes stress, fatigue, irritability, anxiety. Interaction with nature works to increase parasympathetic activity and bring you calm, relaxation, and concentration.
Conversely, those lacking interaction with nature, or urban dwellers, have been found to have increased levels of stress hormones. The low-level stimuli of city life has even been shown to dull our thinking and reduce memory function, whereas high fascination scenery - think visually interesting plants in your home or office - has been shown to increase attention and retention ability.
Nature can influence overall happiness as well. A study done by the University of Exiter found that urban dwellers with greater amounts of green space were happier than those without. Some crazy stats from the study – the happiness effect was revealed to be equivalent to one-third the jump in wellbeing people get from being married!
Many employers have taken notice of biophilia and its potentially positive effects on employee health and well-being, as well as production. Bringing exposure to nature to the workplace can, for one, reduce absenteeism.
A study conducted at the University of Oregon compared the absenteeism rates of three different office types. 30% of their offices overlook lush, vegetative trees and interesting landscapes, 31% overlook a street, and 39% are completely enclosed inside offering no view at all. Those with a view of a nature took the least sick days at an average of 57 hours and those with no view at all took the most at 68 hours, with those with a street view falling in the middle. With the US Department of Labor reporting employers lose an average of $2,074 per employee each year due to absenteeism, this is definitely something employers will consider as they design their offices in the future.
Productivity is another huge benefit of nature within the workplace. Call center studies concluded that workers with views of the outdoors handled calls 6-7% faster than those with no view. With the integration of greenery into office design employers can reduce their workers psychological stress and gain significant work accomplished.
Of course, not every company can up and change their architecture and office view, however many companies are incorporating biophilia inside their buildings, which can have similar effects. Research from Central Michigan University found that those with office plants and direct sunlight also had lower rates of depression, and were more satisfied with and committed to their job