Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Topophilia
What is topophilia, how does it develop, and what are the psychological impacts?
Have you ever fallen in love with a certain place? Whether it be your home, the area in which you grew up, or somewhere you’ve only visited once? From dense evergreen forests to sandy beaches with clear waves, why do people fall in love with areas around them? Or, more generally, what is the relationship between humans and nature?
Philosophers and theorists throughout history have been asking these questions and debating the relationship we, as humans, have with our environment. First proposed by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan at the University of Wisconsin, topophilia is “an effective bond with one’s environment” (Heimer, 2005: p. 2). It is a person’s “mental, emotional, and cognitive ties” to a certain place (Heimer, 2005: p. 2). Topophilia explains why humans fall in love with certain places, especially ones of the natural world. It proposes the idea that finding and then existing in places we love will improve our quality of life. This chapter explain what topophilia is, how it develops in humans, and the psychological impacts. Topophilia is one answer to the question philosophers and theorists have been debating for centuries: What is the relationship between humans and nature?
What is topophilia?Edit
Topophilia is a love of places. A combination of two Greek words (topos and philia) meaning “love of place” (Abante & Abante, 2019: p. 1), it represents a strong sense of place that intertwines with the cultural identity of a person. The term first appeared in British poet John Betjeman’s book Slick but not Streamlined and French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space in 1958. However, the term we know today was coined by Yi-Fu Tuan, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin (Heimer, 2005: p. 2). He defined it as “an effective bond with one’s nature”, a “person’s mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place” (Heimer, 2005: p. 2). The concept in academia serves two major functions. It drives our “sense of origin” and our “sense of insideness or sense of community" (Abante & Abante, 2019: p. 1). Topophilia is a driving force that helps us feel in love with the places in which we were born and the places we find community in. It is more than just a love for nature. It is a love for the natural places in which we feel at home.
"Human beings have persistently searched for the ideal environment. How it looks varies from one culture to another but in essence it seems to draw on two antipodal images: the garden of innocence and the cosmos. The fruits of the earth provide security as also does the harmony of the stars which offers, in addition, grandeur. So we move from one to the other: from the shade under the baobab to the magic circle under heaven; from home to public square, from suburb to city; from a seaside holiday to the enjoyment of the sophisticated arts. Seeking for a point of equilibrium that is not of this world"
- Yi-Fu Tuan (Kauko, 2004, p. 859)
Imagine if you were leaving your home and the area surrounding it. How would you feel? Would you miss your old home and start to long for it?
If the answer is yes, then you are experiencing topophilia.
Origins of philiasEdit
Topophilia is a form of philia. One of the seven words of love in ancient Greek philosophy, philia means “friendship” (Theodore, 1979: p. 65). A concept developed by Aristotle in his book, Nicomachean Ethics, philia is described as a “mutual attraction or attachment” or “as that which ties together” (Theodore, 1979: p. 65). This form of love is defined by the equal, platonic attraction the individual has for another. Aristotle believed that this form of love was not just limited to human relationships, but rather, he believed that “in every association, we find mutual rights of some sort as well as philia” (Theodore, 1979: p. 65). This extends to concepts such as justice, freedom and nature. While Aristotle developed the idea of philia, he was not the only ancient Greek philosopher that spoke about it. Plato’s dialogue, the Lysis, is devoted to the idea of philia which he sees as a form of interpersonal relationship (Murr, 2014: p. 3). With this dialogue, Plato’s main concern was “with the nature of desire, of which friendship is one type” (Murr, 2014: p. 3). However, his dialogue faced major prejudice from his audience as he deliberately ignored the cultural distinction between eros, erotic love, and philia, platonic love (Murr, 2014: p. 3). In ancient Greek philosophy, philia represents friendship. It is a mutual kind of attraction or attachment. In this case, topophilia is the mutual attachment a person has with the place they come from or feel culturally attached to.
Before topophilia, there was the biophilia hypothesis. Coined in 1984 by Edward O. Wilson in his book, Biophilia, his hypothesis is that humans have an “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” (Gullone, 2000: p. 294). The hypothesis proposes that humans have an innate tendency to maintain contact with nature (Gullone, 2000: p. 294). This tendency stems from our species’ long history as “subsistence hunters, gathers, and farmers” (Gullone, 2000: p. 295). We have evolved to love nature due to it being our only source of essential resources like food. All humans naturally desire to be a part of nature. Wilson believed that the “biophilic instinct emerges unconsciously in our cognition, emotions, art and ethics” (Khan, 1997: p. 2). These urges then turn into “predictive fantasies” that cascade into “repetitive patterns” that appear in most cultures (Khan, 1997: p. 2). Studies surrounding this hypothesis have shown that the hypothesis itself does have merit. It has been found that even minimal contact with nature increases productivity and health in the workplace, increases the healing of patients and reduces the frequency of sickness occurring (Khan, 1997: p. 2). It also explains why we conduct certain behaviours such as strolling along the seashore or crowding national parks (Khan, 1997: p. 2). Essentially, humans have evolved to want to be in natural spaces. We innately crave it and go out of our way to be amongst it. By following this innate desire our physical and psychological health improves.
After biophilia came the topophilia hypothesis. Topophilia both critiques and builds upon biophilia (Beery, Jönsson & Elmberg, 2015: p. 8839). It provides a cleaner definition for the “human affiliation with the nonhuman world”, and allows for hybridised explanations like cultural learning or its innate genetics (Beery et al., 2015, p. 8843). The main difference between the two is that the topophilia hypothesis eliminates the definitional fuzziness caused by Wilson’s presentation of biophilia (Beery, Jönsson & Elmberg, 2015: p. 8844). Biophilia argues that human’s innate tendency comes from human evolution in a biological world, topophilia acknowledges the biological world but broadens it out to include physical, non-living elements like stone and water (Beery et al., p. 8844). Topophilia takes the basic principles of biophilia and expands upon them by including the non-living elements of nature. While biophilia focuses on the biological side of humans and nature, topophilia is multidimensional by looking at cultural factors. Biophilia focuses on nature as a whole, while topophilia specifies that it is an “affective bond between [a person] and place” (Sampson, 2012: p. 25). If further confirmed by additional research, topophilia will change the way we view the world. For example, our affinity for pets or household plants may not stem from our affinity with life but from our affinity for the place we live in (Sampson, 2012: p. 38). The human bias of forming emotional connections with the places we inhabit would come from our genetic bias to form effective bonds with our surroundings, rather than an affinity for nature or life itself (Sampson, 2012: p. 38). Biophilia focuses on our innate love for life itself, while topophilia focuses on our innate love for the places we inhabit.
Imagine you are moving out of your current home. What are the parts of your current home that you would miss the most?
If you long for the living, biological parts of your home like your plants or pets, that's biophilia.
If you also long for the non-living, cultural parts of your home like the home's decorations or your bedroom, that's topophilia.
How does topophilia develop?Edit
Given that topophilia is a person’s bond with their surroundings, it plays an important role in environmental psychology. Topophilia develops from a person’s life experiences, which are partly determined by their “social environment, exogenous economics and idealistic impulses related to one’s self-awareness” (Kauko, 2004: p. 861). Yi-Fu Tuan identified one other key aspect that influences the way an individual’s topophilia may develop. A person may lean towards a “womb-like shelter” or completely open spaces (Kauko, 2004: p. 861). This sense of wanting a closed-off shelter or a completely open space possibly stems from a person’s fears, specifically agoraphobia and claustrophobia (Kauko, 2004: p. 861). Based on our individual lifestyles we form our own relationships with the environment around us. We develop a sense of origin and community, which ties us to the places we frequent the most. Humans naturally develop a relationship with the environment around us, cultural factors influencing our personal form of topophilia. Environmental psychology has shown that topophilia is crucial to our quality of life. A study found that those satisfied with their current living conditions are characterised by an attachment to their current dwelling, while those unsatisfied have no attachment to their current dwelling (Moser, 2009: p. 352). Those unsatisfied tended to have an anchorage in their childhood and were also nostalgic for the past (Moser, 2009: p. 352). An individual’s quality of life is better due to their attachment to the environment they are in. Topophilia is a personal experience that is developed throughout our lives. It is formed throughout our lifestyles and influenced by social, economic, and cultural factors.
Another explanation for the development of topophilia is that it formed through evolution. Building from biophilia, topophilia argues that human connectedness is better characterised as “a developmental behavioural system based upon gene expression and environmental interaction” (Thomas, Ingemar & Johan, 2015: p. 8844). There is a genetically based drive for exploring our surroundings and leaving our mark on the world we explore (Thomas, Ingemar & Johan, 2015: p. 8844). This innate drive to explore and learn about our surroundings improves our chances of survival, which is why humans evolved to have this feature (Thomas, Ingemar & Johan, 2015: pp. 8844–8845). Research surrounding this perspective has shown that topophilia imprints on a person during childhood. A study conducted by Adevi and Grahn in 2012 found that childhood landscapes do influence adult preferences and that survivability factors had stronger preferences in childhood landscapes (Thomas, Ingemar & Johan, 2015: p. 8845). Essentially put, topophilia is an innate drive that gets us to explore our surroundings and leave marks on the world. It also primes us to find landscapes that promote our survivability. The reason why we grow a mutual bond with places is that those places help us survive. However, the evolutionary perspective is still being expanded upon. Currently, there is a debate between evolutionary and emotional psychologists as to whether or not we would prefer landscapes of survival or landscapes that are a part of our habitat (Kępkowicz & Lipińska, 2021: p. 3). Does topophilia prioritise our sense of survival or our sense of origin? Nevertheless, topophilia remains a genetic trait of ours that interacts with our environment. It is a behavioural system that improves our chances of survival by making people adventurous.
Imagine you are planning moving out of your house and want to go somewhere completely new. You have narrowed down your options to two places. The first would be perfect for your lifestyle, however, buying basic necessities would become a hassle due to how expensive they are. The second allows you to buy basic necessities at a much cheaper price, but, it would ruin your current lifestyle. What place would you chose to move to?
Those who follow the cultural perspective of topophilia would chose option 1.
Those who follow the evolutionary perspective of topophilia would chose option 2.
What are the psychological impacts of topophilia?Edit
Impacts on our quality of lifeEdit
The main psychological impact of topophilia is its relationship with a person’s quality of life. A study conducted by Ogunseitan found that there is a significant association between topophilia and quality of life (Ogunseitan, 2005: p. 147). It found that the strongest connection between topophilia and quality of life was a person’s appreciation for ecological diversity (Ogunseitan, 2005: p. 147). This appreciation was mainly focused on flowers and bodies of water (Ogunseitan, 2005: p. 147). The study concludes by arguing that proactive environmental and landscape design can help with mental restoration (Ogunseitan, 2005: p. 148). While this study mainly focused on nature itself, rather than measuring specific places, it does show that human’s relationship with nature does improve our psychological well-being. Having a mutual attachment with your surroundings, and nurturing that relationship can improve your quality of life.
Impacts on our childhoodEdit
Topophilia also affects our childhood. A study conducted by Thomas H. Beery and Kristi S. Lekies in 2016 found that topophilia is present in childhood through the act of collecting (Beery & Lekies, 2016: p. 127). The study found two key points about childhood collecting. Firstly, collecting provides a “window into childhood experiences of play” as it physically and cognitively immerses children in the natural world around them (Beery & Lekies, 2016: p. 127). Secondly, it provides a tangible example of what the “formative process of connectedness/place attachment” may look like (Beery & Lekies, 2016: p. 127). Through this formative process, places become unique to the individual, adult participants describing their childhood environments with personal meaning (Beery & Lekies, 2016: p. 128). Topophilia slowly develops throughout our lives but it starts off in childhood. Through collecting and other forms of play, we establish our relationship with the places in which we grow up. We become attached to the areas we grow up in and then prescribe those places with our own personal meaning. Regardless of if topophilia develops due to cultural or evolutionary means, topophilia affects our entire lives and makes us fall in love with the places we spent time in as children.
Imagine that you are moving out of your childhood home. You are finally leaving the place in which you grew up. How do you think this would make you feel? After a while would you long for that place or end up visiting it even though you no longer live there? When describing your childhood home, how personal would you get when describing it?
If the answer to these questions is that you would miss it and find personal value/meaning in your childhood home, you have experienced topophilia.
Knowing and understanding topophilia is important. It is our “affective bond with nature”, our mutual attraction to the places that surround us (Heimer, 2005: p. 2). We as humans naturally will grow attached to and develop a sense of origin and community in the places we grew up in. Throughout our lives, this relationship grows and expands to include all of the places we find unique and special. We embed personal meaning into the places we love and going to them improves our quality of life. Regardless of if it forms through cultural or evolutionary means, topophilia is a vital form of love. The most important idea to take from this chapter is that you need to nurture your relationship with the environment around you. Find places that make you fall in love with them and cherish those places for the rest of your lives. While you consciously may not do it, subconsciously you're slowly falling in love with the nature that surrounds you. Treasure the place in which you live and visit the places you’ve fallen in love with.
- Forest therapy and emotion (Book chapter, 2020)
- Nature and emotion (Book chapter, 2013)
- Nature and psychological distress (Book chapter, 2021)
- Nature and psychological well-being (Book chapter, 2011)
- Nature deficit disorder (Book chapter, 2020)
- Nature therapy (Book chapter, 2022)
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- Topophilia: A study of environmental perceptions, attitudes, and values (Yi-Fu Tuan's Book, 1990)
- Topophilia: An affinity of places (YouTube, 2002)
- Topophilia - Peter Braunholz (YouTube, 2018)