A study from University of Alabama shows that you can reduce stress with the sight and sound of a fire – and blood pressure actually decreases from it. In the study, researcher Christopher Lynn has examined the effect of a fire on 226 adults who experienced simulations of fires. The study shows that blood pressure decreased for participants who watched and listened to a flickering fire, especially if they experienced the fire over a longer period. The results confirm that fires and wood burning stoves have a calming effect on humans.
The role of fire in human life
Several studies point to fire playing a significant role in human evolution. The fire contributed to the lives of ancient hominins, who we descend from, by extending the hours of the day, making more places habitable, giving humans heat and an opportunity to cook food that was previously inedible, and then the fire also worked as a social gathering point. Christopher Lynn shows in his study that the fire also contributes positively to human life today by decreasing stress and blood pressure. He emphasizes that stress is increasingly affecting society today:
“Stress-related disorder are among the leading causes of disability in the modern era and pose significant economic impacts worldwide, so there is great incentive to understand the evolved mechanisms and environmental triggers of stress-reduction that are specific to humans.”
Social around the flames
Wood burning stoves and fires also work as social gathering points today, and Lynn’s study shows that the sight and sound of the flames have a positive impact on the participants’ “prosociality”. Prosocial behavior includes the ‘positive aspects’ of social behavior such as altruism, helpfulness, trust and tolerance. Meanwhile, the flickering fire also strengthened the participants’ ability to concentrate.
Source: December 2014 Evolutionary Psychology 12(5): 983-1003