2002 December 26 Thursday
Lionel Tiger on What Humans Need

Noted anthropologist Lionel Tiger talks about basic human needs.

Using physiology as his baseline, Tiger said we have a sturdy general idea of what the body needs and how it should be cared for. The body is structure, and behavior is function. Structure and function are almost invariably related. From this interaction, he developed his portfolio of behavioral "vitamins."

The first is the opportunity to be governed by rules about maturity. "That is, 3-year-olds do not and should not have the same package of rights and responsibilities as 30-year-olds."

The second is access to fresh air and natural light as necessary for indulging in agreeable behavior.

The third is greenery. "Humans evolved in nature, and we try to import the upper Paleolithic into our high-rise apartments by buying plants whose only serious function is aesthetic," Tiger said.

We are not infinitely malleable. We have basic biological needs. All modern tabula rasa social science doctrine notwithstanding, we can not be trained to not have innate needs and desires. Among those innate needs appears to be a need to look at plants.

Researchers, such as Roger Ulrich and Russ Parsons at Texas A&M and Rachel and Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan, note positive changes in behavior which result directly from people being able to see plants. For example, Ulrich compared the hospital records of patients recovering from gall bladder surgery and found those with a view of a group of trees spent less time in the hospital than those looking out at a brick wall (7.96 days vs 8.70 days). Equally important, they required fewer and less-potent drugs to remain comfortable.

In a recently completed study at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, women recovering from breast cancer surgery found walks in the garden helped restore their ability to concentrate and focus their attention, and reduced their depression. At the start of the study, the scores of all the women on tests of measured attention were so low they resembled brain-damaged patients. Over the next 90 days, some of the patients participated in activities selected to help restore them from the anxiety and mental fatigue related to their surgery. Walking in the garden 20 to 30 minutes three times per week proved to be a very effective activity. Those who participated in the activities recovered faster and were able to develop new interests. More of them went back to work during the study than the control group. The Kaplans report workers with a view of trees and flowers experienced less job pressure and were more satisfied with their jobs than those who had no outside view or only a view of buildings. The employees with views of plants also reported fewer headaches and illnesses. Several researchers have documented faster recovery from the stress and mental fatigue of daily life through the use of plants.

Perhaps we should set our computer desktop backgrounds to a shade of green. Articles such as the above inspired the change to a teal green blog banner. Though an image of plants and tree leaves would probably be more effective.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 26 02:11 PM  Human Nature

John Ray said at December 27, 2002 11:42 PM:

Hmm.. As it happens, I have just (on 23rd) greened up the colour scheme of my blog too! Though my reasons were not therapeutic.

Antonio McCloud said at September 21, 2003 1:05 PM:

I am a student at Norwich University. I am in the Master Program of Architecture, and my thesis deals with the lighting of buildings. (the need of it)I was woundering if you could email me some more information on natural lighting. Thaks

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