According to a new study led by the University of Turku in Finland, internet searches show the increasing prevalence of various biophobias around the world. Countries with larger urban populations show interest in a wider range of nature-related phobias, supporting the idea that urban living may be linked to fear and anger towards nature.
The famous naturalist EO Wilson proposed the idea that humans have an innate tendency to connect with nature and other life forms, a concept commonly called biophilia. However, many people also show the opposite reaction, showing an innate and sometimes even irrational fear of certain organisms or elements of nature. Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) are generally considered to be among the most common forms of specific phobias in the realm of nature-related phobias, or biophobias.
“Some forms of biophobia are considered to have an evolutionary utility, as they help our ancestors avoid encounters with potentially harmful organisms, but many people also show fearful responses to organisms with no apparent threat, which may lead to excessive anxiety and avoidance of interaction with nature,” said Dr. Stefano Mammola, an ecologist from the Italian National Research Council and co-author of the study.
“Nature-related phobias are believed to be increasing in modern societies, and while some researchers suggest that this change may be linked to a growing disconnection from nature due to urban living, the extent -on and the drivers of those changes remain poorly understood.”
This situation is partly driven by the fact that information on the prevalence of biophobias in the modern population is scarce. To meet this challenge, researchers turned to another source of information—internet searches.
“The internet has become the main source of information in almost every aspect of our daily lives, and it is possible that people suffering from some form of biophobia may use the internet to assess their situation and identify those way to cope with it,” said lead. author, Dr. Ricardo Correia, who is an Assistant Professor at the Biodiversity Unit at the University of Turku in Finland.
The authors analyzed internet search interest for 25 different forms of biophobia, and for another set of 25 other phobias unrelated to nature as a comparison group. In fact, the authors found that the interest in biophobias is increasing worldwide for 17 of the 25 biophobias, although at a slower pace than that observed for other specific phobias where the search is also increasing.
Importantly, the number of biophobias with recorded interest in finding a country level is positively related to the number of poisonous species in the country and to the proportion of the country’s population living in urban areas, but negatively related to growth of the country’s urban population. .
“Our results suggest that a wider spread of different biophobias can be found in countries with large and long-established urban populations,” said Dr. Correia.
“These results support previous hypotheses that suggest a link between urban living and a disconnection from nature, driven by the extinction of natural experiences. This is ultimately manifested in fear and anger towards others life forms. These reactions can negatively affect people’s well-being, but also have consequences for how people view and support the preservation of nature around them.”
The research article “The searchscape of fear: A global analysis of internet search trends for biophobias” was published in a special issue dedicated to the topic of Biophobias in People and Nature.
Ricardo A. Correia et al, The search for fear: A global analysis of internet search trends for biophobias, People and Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10497
Provided by the University of Turku
Citation: Online searches point to increasing prevalence of nature-related phobias in urban populations (2023, July 13) retrieved on 13 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023- 07-online-prevalence-nature-related-phobias-urban.html
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