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Description: What does sitting around a campfire with friends do for you? Yes, it can keep you warm, it can give you something to do after dark when camping with minimal artificial light, it can give you a chance to exchange scary stories but what can it also do for your physical and possibly mental health? Also, if it has positive effects, why might they be? Think about what might be at play and perhaps consider that the word evolutionary is in the title of the linked article. Once you have your fire-side psychology story sketched out, have a read through the article linked below to see if there are things you might consider adding or changing for the next time you are around a fire.

Source: The Evolutionary Reason Why We Love Sitting by a Crackling Fire, Carolyn Gregoire, The Huffington Post.

Date: November 5, 2021

Image by Natasha G from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, did your campfire story include the lowering of blood pressure and the multiplier effect of sociability? Often when we are wondering about evolutionary influences on how we respond to current stresses or challenges such a work pressure, financial issues, or political situations we have to extrapolate from the forces that shaped our evolutionary pasts to or current realities. We often hear that the sorts of stressors that we are evolutionarily prepared to encounter and to cope with (intense, short-term challenges) are different than the stressors we contend with today (moderate and long term). When we are discussing the effect of fire, we are actually looking at what many anthropologists suggest is one of the two most powerful shaping forces in our evolutionary past (language being the other). Spoken language made it possible for us to share individual experiences and wisdom within and across groups as well as making it possible to talk and speculate outside of the immediate here and now, making planning and strategizing possible and bringing and holding groups together. Fire (the control of fire) allowed us to cook our food and if you think that may not be such a big deal read the article linked below in the further reading section on what is involved in eating like a chimpanzee.  Fire provided warmth, security/protection, and extra hours in what would otherwise be total darkness. Those extra hours, drawn close to our “in group” around the fire allowed for the sharing of stories, tales, information, warnings, and wisdom and energized our theories of mind (understanding that others’ experiences and thoughts may be different than our own). As another of the linked articles in the Further Reading section suggests, such regular around-a-fire-gatherings served as foundational to the formation and extension of culture, of our ways of being, living and knowing (what we talked about during the day was likely different than what we talked about around the fire, see the linked article about this in further reading). Given all of this is it any surprise at all that we calm down and our blood pressure (all brainstem controlled, and fight/flight linked) improve as we sit around a fire? Perhaps we should do so more often!?! Oh, and if you are worried that having a real fire will contribute to global warming and climate change consider this: there may well be powerful individual and social benefits to sharing a fire. As well, I have looked into it and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by a single campfire is equal to about the weight of the wood burned (about 30 to 40 pounds) and a very well-reviewed company like sells carbon offsets for $20 (Canadian) a metric tonne which means that a campfire would cost you between 25 and 35 cents. So, I have already purchased my first tonne of offsets and am looking forward to sharing a few fires with anyone who would like to come by and sit and share in a re-humanizing experience … it is in our genes!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are the benefits of sitting around a fire shown by the linked research article?
  2. What sorts of things might be seen as possible positive impacts of language and fire on human society/culture?
  3. How might we utilize campfires today as part of mental health, wellness and resilience (and social stability)?

References (Read Further):

Dana Lynn, C. (2014). Hearth and campfire influences on arterial blood pressure: defraying the costs of the social brain through fireside relaxation. Evolutionary Psychology, 12(5), 147470491401200509. Link

Wiessner, P. W. (2014). Embers of society: Firelight talk among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(39), 14027-14035. Link

Adler, Jerry (2013) Why Fire Makes Us Human, Smithsonian Magazine, Link

Dunbar, R. I. (2014). How conversations around campfires came to be. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(39), 14013-14014. Link

Dunbar, R. I. M. (2017). Breaking bread: the functions of social eating. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3(3), 198-211. Link

Fitch, W. T. (2005). The evolution of language: a comparative review. Biology and philosophy, 20(2-3), 193-203. Link