Researchers are shedding light on a phenomenon called plant blindness, a nature deficit disorder that shows how humans underappreciate plants compared to animals.
People are prone to attentional blink. When they see rapid-fire images of both plants and animals, they are more likely to identify the latter more.
This reduced attention to trees and flowers can have a significant impact on their conservation and, subsequently, to human health.
Loving Animals More Than Plants
For the researchers, there are at least two reasons why humans have a stronger affinity to animals than plants.
One of these is biology. To be more specific, it's how the brain and the eyes perceive them. The brain processes thousands of images in any given day, so it tries to be efficient by filtering out some visual data.
These can include the trees, which often grow together in close proximity. When the eyes see them, they clump them together.
The other is biobehavioral similarity. While humans are not bears or cats, people identify themselves more closely to these creatures than to trees or other types of plants. This is evident on how humans assign their own characteristics to the animals they see.
This level of personal association compels people to feel more sense of protection for the animals than for the plants.
The Damning Effect
The researchers are not saying animals are less important than plants, only that both can be equally significant to the environment and human life.
The Neanderthals might have lived long enough through their self-medication with plants. By using apples, scientists today are learning more about tissue regeneration, which may become an alternative treatment to injuries and effects of chronic diseases.
Trees can also serve as carbon stores to help mitigate climate change. The inability of humans to pay closer attention to them, however, can undermine the benefits plants provide.
Most of all, it may reduce conservation efforts. For example, although there are more endangered species of plants than animals in the United States, the former receive less than 4 percent of conservation funding.
How To See More Plants
The good news is there are ways to treat plant blindness. One of these is to strengthen its relationship with humans regularly.
"Everyday interactions with plants is the best strategy," said Elisabeth Schussler, one of the scientists who coined the term "plant blindness."
These interactions should begin as early as possible, such as when people are still kids and before they start to lose interest in them.
Another method of connection is in visual arts and storytelling, which can encourage students to ask questions about them.
It's also essential to understand the meaning of plants to different religions and cultures.
"Although our human brains may be wired for plant blindness, we can overcome it with greater awareness," Schussler remarked.