The values of biophilia: 9 fundamental ways by which we attribute meaning and benefit from nature

Have you ever asked yourself why after a long working week full of psychological or physical efforts, at some point you feel exhausted and become eager to give up everything and escape to some pleasant place in the middle of untouched Nature?

Why do we say “beautiful” or “now I can regenerate” when we are in a mountain landscape or on a fresh green space full of colourful flowers in an urban park, or in front of a vigorous vertical garden in our office?

Why do we fill our terraces with plants and take walks in the woods for no apparent reason, other than to keep fit and take a breath of fresh air?


Each of these situations bears witness in a unique way to our relationship with Nature and how it affects us in many aspects of our every day existence, even if many of us are no longer aware of it.

In this article:


We are attracted to everything that is alive, and living things can basically arouse two emotions in us:

  • affiliation (=BIOFILIA)
  • repulsion (=BIOFOBIA)

Biophobia may seem like the antithesis of biophilia, which literally translates as "LOVE FOR LIFE", but the latter reflects the inherent tendency to affiliate with Nature, a tendency that includes both positive interest and affection, as well as apprehension and aversion to it.

Biophilia is innate, and it is a genetic predisposition that we all possess, but it must be stimulated and educated to be able to express itself at its best. Direct contact with Nature has multiple positive effects on our health and on our psychophysical well-being, as shown by numerous scientific studies. The writer Jane Austen already sensed this, when in her novel Mansfield Park she wrote “I shall soon be rested, […] to sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.



Dealing with the strong bond between Human and Nature is not a current fashion, or a trend that will soon become obsolete, but a relationship that has developed and consolidated over the long years of our evolutionary history in close contact with Nature and still has today , without a doubt, a strong impact on our actions, choices and preferences. Numerous decisions and many daily gestures are guided by our biology and come from our adaptations to natural environments that occurred during the evolution of our species.

American ecologist, Stephen R. Kellert (1943-2016), who was a Professor at Yale University, as well as being the inventor of Biophilic Design (a design discipline and applied science that deals with built environments that are able to stimulate our innate biophilia with regenerative and stress-reducing effects - we have talked about it in other contributions in the blog) - has tried to systematize the theoretical framework of biophilia.

Together with Edward O. Wilson, Kellert developed the biophilia hypothesis.ìIn his book "The Value of Life" (1996) he identified the 9 VALUES OF BIOPHILY.

For Kellert, biophilia reflects the human tendency to give importance and value to nature. We depend on the relationship with it, or rather on the quality of this relationship, from a UTILITY UTILITARIAN, NATURALISTICECOLOGISTIC-SCIENTIFICAESTHETICSYMBOLICHUMANISTICMORALISTICDOMINIONISTIC and NEGATIVISTIC point of view. These values developed throughout our evolution because they were instrumental in promoting the health and well-being of our ancestors.

They are considered "weak" biological or intrinsic tendencies, which are strongly influenced by the learning and experience of each of us within a cultural or community context.



Here you can find the 9 VALUES OF BIOPHILY and what their FUNCTIONS are for the human being (Kellert, 1996; Barbiero, 2016).

The hierarchical scale, and the intensity of these values, change from individual to individual and also within human communities, but their healthy and adaptive expression belongs to each individual of our species.


I would like to end this little excursus into the world of biophilic values with a sentence attributed to Leo Tolstoy:

"One of the first conditions for happiness is that the bond between Man and Nature is not interrupted"!



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Bettina Bolten, Biophilic design consultant

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