Is our Modernizing Culture Killing Biophilia?

This topic submitted by Cassandra Solder, Ross Meyer ( at 12:50 pm on 10/19/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Myers

Is our modernizing culture killing Biophilia?
Natural versus Artificial Light Affects on Mood

Cassandra Solder
Ross Meyer

Introduction and Relevance

“The simplest and most lumpish fungus has a particular interest to us, compared with a mere mass of earth, because it is so obviously organic and related to ourselves, however mute . . . It is the expression of an idea; growth according to a law; matter not dormant, not raw, but inspired, appropriated by spirit . . . the humblest fungus betrays a life akin to my own. It is a successful poem in its kind,” writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau writes in the October 10, 1858, entry to his journal (Mlot 1995). Thoreau evokes the essence of the feeling behind the Biophilia Hypothesis. This Biophilia Hypothesis was proposed more than a decade ago by sociobiologist Edward Wilson in 1984 (Step 1994). The hypothesis states that Homo sapiens has a tendency to be interested in and respond emotionally to nature and that the response is genetically determined (Hill 1994). In other words, Biophilia proposes that people have an “innately emotional affiliation . . . to other living organisms” (Step 1994). Wilson went on to state that our emotions for living things are innate because of our having spent the bulk of our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers in close contact with other species (Mlot 1995). Wilson then states that “whatever genetic configuration enabled our ancient ancestors to eke out a living persists in our urban lives today and expresses itself in our predilection for pets and houseplants, and in any responsiveness we might manifest to the loss of biological diversity around us” (Mlot 1995). Therefore, as Wilson proposed in his Biophilia hypothesis, we as humans have a natural tendency to affiliate with nature.
However, could Biophilia be dying? We relate to our environment in differing ways, with different intensity and different sources. More simply, we learn to love what has become familiar (Orr 1994). Therefore, what we call “modernization” could represent a dramatic change in how we regard the natural world and our role in it. This “modernization” leads to a cultural affiliation with technology, human artifacts, and solely human interests rather than the natural world (Orr 1994). This new cultural affiliation with non-natural objects is termed biophobia, or, and aversion to nature (Orr 1994). This aversion to nature is “increasingly common among people raised with television, walkman radios attached to their heads, video games, and living amidst dense urban or suburban settings where nature is permitted as a decoration . . . it ranges from discomfort in ‘natural’ places to active scorn for whatever is not manmade, managed, or air-conditioned” (Orr 1994). So, has biophobia replaced the focus on a now-remote wilderness due to a changing culture, an adaptation of a sort? Do people still have a love, or affiliation, toward natural environments rather than artificial ones? Is Biophilia still applicable in our changing society as we “modernize”?

Therefore, we need to test the accuracy of the Biophilia Hypothesis. Do we affiliate with natural or artificial things? Does our upbringing cause this affiliation? To answer these questions, we need to discover if people have a tendency to prefer natural or artificial environments, and also if their preference correlates to their upbringing. If people preferred natural environments, then the Biophilia Hypothesis would be supported because it would display an affiliation to nature. Perhaps those people who prefer the natural would come from rural, naturalistic backgrounds that caused them to develop this love for nature. On the other hand, if people would have a tendency toward the artificial conditions, then perhaps the Biophilia Hypothesis is being replaced by biophobia. Perhaps these biophobics come from a background intensely urban fully exposed to the technological advances in our culture.
How then can we test people’s tendencies toward natural versus artificial conditions? One possibility is to test whether people prefer natural or artificial lighting. Also, we can test if natural light can affect our moods and behaviors, supporting Biophilia.
Much research has discovered that light definitely has an effect on human beings. Research has shown conclusively that light affects the human body in ways other than producing vision. The effects identified so far involve body rhythms. There are currently over 3000 references on light’s affect on human chronobiology (Kripke 1993). On example is the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD reveals some of the impacts of removing ourselves from natural light due to the changing society where people spend over 90 percent of their live indoors (Heimlich.). SAD is a specific type of clinical depression due to shorter days and lack of natural light during winter (Heimlich). Why does sunlight have such an impact on humans?
It is accepted that bright light can affect sleeping patterns, have an impact on the internal biological clock, and that the relative light during summer and winter can affect human energy levels (Heimlich). It is known that exposure to natural sunlight helps the human body process food better and encourages the production of vitamin D3 which is important for efficient use of calcium and phosphorus in the body (Heimlich). Also, sunlight activates an enzyme in the skin which produces a polymer of dopa (an amino acid) called melanin, which is the pigmentation in the skin (Heimlich). Furthermore, sunlight has an effect on the body through the eyes by stimulating the pineal gland to release a neurotransmitter called serotonin which helps regulate blood vessel constriction and a hormone called melatonin, which in excess induces sleep, drowsiness, and lethargy” (Heimlich). And last, natural light, or lack thereof, can affect our mood through neurophysiology. Lighting can also affect our mood based on our cognitive perceptions, and possibly unconscious perceptions (Zilber 1993). This is where our lab research comes into play. How can natural, or artificial, light affect our mood?
But first, we need to understand the differences between natural and artificial light. First, natural sunlight is more brightly lit—much more (Zilber 1993). The illuminance from the sky alone with the sun blocked can exceed 10,000 lux; and with direct sunlight added, illuminance can exceed 100,000 lux” (Rea 1993). Artificial light, on the other hand, generally maximizes at only 1,000 lux (93 foot-candles) (Zilber 1993). Second, natural light from the sun is very uniform and diffuse and the amount of light varies smoothly over the course of the day (Zilber 1993). Also, the sky is blue (color temp. > 6000K), with changing color temperature smoothly throughout the course of the day, rarely dropping below 5000K (at noon), then increasing to over 10,000K (at dusk) (Rea 1993). Finally, there is significantly more UV light present, at all wavelengths (Zilber 1993). Natural light has the full spectrum of visible and invisible light with higher and lower wavelengths that artificial light lack (O.S.U.).
Therefore, obviously, a natural light affects the human body in many ways due to its differences from artificial light. However, our lab sets out to discover whether natural light affects human mood, supporting the Biophilia Hypothesis. Also, do people’s developmental backgrounds correlate with their affiliation to natural or artificial light and thus to Biophilia or Biophobia?

We hypothesize that the Biophilia Hypothesis is still valid if people have a positive attitude/mood when exposed to natural sunlight rather than artificial light. Natural light and mood are positively correlated; increased natural light leads to increased positive mood, we hypothesize. Also, people more naturalistic and/or from more rural backgrounds less exposed to technology will have a higher affiliation to natural light than more urban, modernized people. If these relationships are validated by our research, then the Biophilia Hypothesis is still valid in our modernizing culture.

Materials and Methods

To test our hypothesis, we formulated two different methodologies of inquiry. Each methodology tests a differing aspect to answer our questions. Also, both methodologies together will support each other to substantiate our results.

Method 1

This method of testing is designed to determine if people have an aesthetic affiliation toward either natural light or artificial light. Also, this method will help us determine if the sun image affects a person’s affiliation with the light. It will also help us determine what mood people associate with a given type of light.
For this method, we will take one picture of a person in a dorm room sitting in a chair. This person will be wearing neutral clothing without many outstanding characteristics. Also, the room will be quite ordinary and plain without many outstanding features either. These constants are necessary so that the person’s perception isn’t swayed by other variables other than the one we are testing, light. We will then alter this photo on the computer to end up with six of the same picture with different light sources. The combinations of light sources will be as follows:
* The artificial light will be coming from a typical dorm light or desk lamp.
We will then proceed to survey people’s moods associated with these pictures. We will do this by letting them judge the pictures in pairs, e.g. natural vs. artificial, or sun vs. no sun. We will show them all six pictures in these random pairs of two. We will select the picture pairs randomly so that the viewer doesn’t find out what we are testing and thus bias their perceptions. When we show a person the two pictures, we will have them fill out a mood rating that they associate with that picture versus the other. The mood rating will be a scale of 1 to 10, one being depressed and 10 being cheerful. They will do this rating for each of the six pictures in the pairs. Then, when they have finished rating the pictures, we will show them all of the pictures together and have them pick the most depressing and the most cheerful. We don’t initially show them all six pictures at once for fear they will know what we are testing. We want a completely unbiased initial response to the picture. Hopefully, if we can keep the variables low and constants high, they will be judging the pictures based on the form of light used in the picture. We hope to survey 50-75 Miami students during a relatively short time period during the same time of day, probably between 12:00 and 3:00 on Tuesdays through Thursdays to try to eliminate other variables that may be factored in.
Then, after they have completed the testing, we will give them a short survey on their background to see if that is correlated to their light preferences. The survey is attached at the end of the packet. From this survey, we will hopefully be able to identify any correlation between gender, major, class, or background with a light affiliation.

Method 2
This second method of inquiry will help us to further support/test our finding from the first method as well as test the hypothesis with real experience rather than aesthetic experience. In this method, we will directly test a person’s mood while exposed to a certain type of light. We will bring one person at a time into a plain, free from distractions, dorm room and seat them in a chair facing a window. An Indian Dream Catcher will be suspended in front of the window the person is facing. The dream catcher serves solely as a focal point of attention and interest for the viewer and also to force the person to look at the window. We will let the person sit in the chair contemplate the dream catcher for 1-2 minutes. Then we will give them a piece of paper with the question: How do you feel? They will select an answer from a scale of 1 to 10 with one being depressed and 10 being cheerful. We will then bring them out of the room and have them answer the same background survey as in the first Method. Half of the people, 20-30, we test will be sat in front of the window without any other lights on. The other half, 20-30, of the people will sit in front of a blinded window with artificial lights on in the room. Their differing moods, we hypothesize, will help us to see if light type affects our moods, and for what kind of people it differs.
We will have to set many constants to be sure that the person’s mood is truly affected by the lighting rather than other variables. We will test people at the same time of day, around 12:00-3:00, and during Tuesday-Thursday to try to eliminate other mood-swaying factors, like the weekend beginning or ending. Also, we will have to be sure that the room is free from any distractions that could sway mood also. Furthermore, we will have to be sure we test the people on a sunny day so that the natural light is strong and noticeable. However, with these constants, there still is room for much variability. Perhaps, we might survey the person’s mood prior to the experiment, but that may sway their decision of their mood after the experiment. This is one area we would appreciate feedback.
We hope to finish all of our testing, both methods, before the end of October because the oncoming winter may affect mood due to the diminishing of natural sunlight.

On our class day, we will begin the class with all of the blinds shut. We will ask people how they feel and what are their thoughts. Then, we will open the blinds and then ask people if they feel any different. We will proceed to discuss, shortly, if they think light will affect a person’s mood and why. Then we will discuss natural and artificial light and their differing affects. We will then explain our hypothesis and methodology 1. We will pair people into eight groups, each with copies of the pictures and survey. Each group will be assigned a place on campus to test ten people during a one-week period. We will need to specify the time of day that they survey the people so that it is constant for all groups. Further, we will specify what days to conduct the surveys to also keep constants. However, this data could be false if we don’t be sure that they follow the procedure exactly. So, we will be sure to emphasize the importance on following the procedure correctly. Then we will return to class and, if time permits, discuss the people’s reactions to the lab and try to start interpreting the data.


How to interpret data
The survey-takers will choose a number between 1 and 10 ranking how they feel about each picture. We will take these numbers and either find their mean, the median, or the deviation to compare the pictures. We will do the same for their mood ranking in the room using whichever method gives us the most information.
The survey everyone is given will also be compared, using either the mean or the deviation of the numbers given. We will end up with three results to compare- the picture rankings, the room rankings, and the survey rankings.
To compare these three numbers, we will use a bar graph to evaluate in percentages the general biophilia affiliation the people tend to have (based on where they live and how much time they spend outdoors) and the mood they have when exposed to natural versus artificial lighting. We could also use a chart or graph that shows the relationship between these different factors. In the end, we would have a conclusion telling if there were a significant number of people who preferred the natural lighting, and how that related to their biophilia affiliation. We will also be able to find any correlations between gender, class, major, and background with the person’s affiliation to a specific type of light. This will helps us determine whether biophilia is still valid in our modernizing culture.
Another method to interpret our data is to use ANOVA. This will test differences between the groups, verifying what correlation can be drawn.

Questions for Feedback

How could we better compare the results between the three variables to give an idea of our results that is easy to understand?

We need to find ways to entice people to take the survey in the separate room, without making it an inconvenience.

We also need to find the best time and location (middle of the day in Peabody Hall?) to conduct our experiment of people actually sitting in the room, so that we had the largest amount of people and best lighting conditions.

Are there any other ways we could rank people’s attitudes to the natural and artificial light that would be easy to compare in addition to the numbers?

Literature Sited

Heimlich, Joe E. Ohio Sate University Extension Fact Sheet. The Invisible Environment Series.

Hill, Brendan. “Why we love the land.” New Scientist; Jan 29, 1994; v141 n1910.

Kripke, Dan F., Sonia Ancoli-Isreal, Jeffery A. Elliott, and Harry Klemfuss. “Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms: An Indexed Bibliography.” 1st Ed. Mar. 1993.

Mlot, Christine. “Love of Life – The Biophilia Hypothesis.” Technology Review; Cambridge; Feb 1995; v98 n2.

Orr, David W. “Love It or Lose It. The Coming Biophilia Revolution.” Orion; 1994; v13 n1.

Orr, David W. “The Coming Biophilia Revolution.” Earth Island Journal; San Fransisco; Spring 1994; v9 n2.

Rea, Mark S. “IES Lighting Handbook.” 8th Edition Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. 1993

Step. “Widespread Likings – The Biophilia Hypothesis.” Science. Washington; Feb 25, 1994; v262 n 5150.

Zilber, Steven A. “Review of Health Effects of Indoor Lighting.” Architronic. Cleveland; 1993

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