From the December 2014 edition of Desktop News | A University of Alabama anthropologist has found that, consistent with anecdotal reports, hearths and campfires can lower blood pressure and likely played important roles in the evolution of the human social brain. Christopher Lynn, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, conducted a three-year lab-based study on the subject.
In an article published in Evolutionary Psychology, Lynn discussed preliminary results from the study, in which he isolated the sensory aspects of fire to study its influence on blood pressure relative to a variety of simulated conditions, including a Yule fire DVD with no sound, a Yule fire DVD with sound, a blank computer screen and a static upside-down picture of a fire. He found significant decreases in blood pressure associated with more naturalistic conditions and longer exposures, whereas fire without sound and the upside-down picture of a fire seemed to agitate subjects and increase stress.
Lynn and other researchers also believe the relaxing influence of fire may have been important in human evolution, a sentiment found in a 2013 advertisement for Coke Zero. Titled “Civilization,” the advertisement features fur-clothed men in front of a fire and claims, “Man has always been captivated by watching stuff. And as civilization progressed, man was able to watch even more riveting stuff…so relax and do what your brain was meant to do, watch stuff.”
Tongue in cheek as the commercial may have been, recent findings suggest that human relationships with watching fire may have begun as early as 1.7 million years ago, though no studies before Lynn’s had examined the influence of fire on human cognition or investigated the elements that produce its relaxing effects. Researchers suspect that fires influence relaxation via automatic nervous system effects, absorbing the attention of their audiences to hypnotic effects and especially at night.
Lynn also found that greater relaxation was experienced by people who are more prosocial, or people who behave in ways that benefit others. This finding supports speculation that manning accidental fires before humans developed the ability to kindle them may have led to enhanced cooperation.
Read the full article about Lynn’s study.