Human “Plant Blindness” – New Study Identifies Cause and Cure

Plant Blindness refers to the tendency to ignore plant species in one’s own environment.

New research demonstrates that “plant blindness” is caused by urban life and could be cured through wild food foraging.

“Plant blindness” is caused by a lack of exposure to nature and could be cured by close contact through activities such as wild food foraging, a study shows.

According to the study, a lack of knowledge and appreciation for local flora results from less time spent with plants and is not an inherent quality of being a human. Due to this, people frequently believe that plants are “less alive” than animals.

Researchers claim that exposing people to biodiverse settings and changing their ideas of the perceived value of plants are the keys to breaking the cycle of plant awareness disparity. When compared to animals, urban civilizations exhibit well-documented plant blindness, which is a lack of interest and awareness for plants.

According to Dr. Bethan Stagg from the University of Exeter and Professor Justin Dillon from University College London, individuals acquire a greater awareness of plants when they interact with them often and in ways that are directly related to their daily lives.

Researchers analyzed 326  articles published in academic journals that were published between 1998 and 2020. Most showed people had more interest and paid more attention – and were more likely to remember – information about animals.

There was no conclusive evidence that this was a trait that humans were born with; rather, the diminished experience of nature in urbanized civilizations seemed to be the root of the problem. If individuals had regular contact with plants, it was not inevitable.

The research shows a decline in relevant experience with plants leads to a cyclical process of inattention. This can be addressed through first-hand experiences of edible and useful plants in local environments.

Studies showed it was common for children – especially when young – to see plants as inferior to animals and not to be able to identify many species.

Plant awareness disparity was reported in teachers as well as students, particularly in primary teachers who had not graduated in a science subject.

Older people had better plant knowledge, which studies suggest was because they were more likely to have nature-related hobbies.

Thirty-five studies found that modernization or urbanization had a negative impact on plant knowledge. The increased reliance on urban services and a cash economy reduced the utility of plant foraging. School attendance and work reduced the time available to spend in the natural environment. These factors also reduced the time spent with family, negatively impacting the oral transmission of plant knowledge between children and older relatives.

Dr. Stagg said: “People living in highly industrialized countries have a plant attention deficit due to a decline in relevant experience with plants, as opposed to a cognitive impediment to the visual perception of plants. People living in rural communities in low and middle-income countries were more likely to have high plant knowledge due to a dependence on natural resources. Interestingly, economic development does not necessarily lead to this knowledge being lost if communities still have access to biodiverse environments.

“The key is to demonstrate some direct benefits of plants to people, as opposed to the indirect benefits through their pharmaceutical and industrial applications, or their value to remote, traditional societies. The level of botanical knowledge in younger generations is shown to be directly related to their perceived usefulness of this knowledge.

“’Wild plant’ foraging shows considerable promise in this respect, both as a way of introducing people to multiple species and connecting them with some ‘modern-day’ health, cultural and recreational uses.”

Reference: “Plant awareness is linked to plant relevance: A review of educational and ethnobiological literature (1998–2020)” by Bethan C. Stagg and Justin Dillon, 21 September 2022, Plants People Planet.
DOI: 10.1002/ppp3.10323

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