The trance-like relaxing effects of a campfire are well known but now scientists have found that an open fire reduces blood pressure – the longer people sit in front of a roaring fire, the greater the relaxing effect it has on them.
Brain scans showed that even when the flames and noise are simulated in a laboratory they reduce blood pressure.
The findings may even explain why last year’s Norwegian television programme broadcasting a crackling fireplace for 12 hours proved so popular.
Campfires and fires in a hearth have played a key role in the evolution of human beings, with the flicker and crackle of burning logs directly linked to human psychology.
Dr Christopher Lynn, a medical and psychological anthropologist, carried out tests on hundreds of volunteers to see how they reacted to a virtual fire.
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His three-year study at the University of Alabama found that even a DVD recording of a roaring fireplace triggered primeval instincts, helping all viewers to relax.
He said: “Hearth and campfires are widely held to influence a relaxation effect. Although the importance of controlled fires in human evolution is indisputable, the relaxation aspect had remained uninvestigated.
“Fires are multisensory experiences that have numerous unexplored dimensions when considering human evolution.
“For ancient hominins, it would have provided the following: light to extend the day and illuminate otherwise uninhabitable dark places; heat for cooking previously inedible food, warming bodies at night, and enabling migration into colder climates; a weapon to facilitate mass hunting and stave off predators; and, according to several scholars, social connection.”
The research, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, involved volunteers watching a variety of virtual fires under examination.
Dr Lynn played unaltered fire videos and muted videos, as well as testing the viewers with a blank screen and a picture of an upside-down fire. The results showed “significant” decreases in blood pressure were associated with the more “naturalistic” conditions. The benefits increased the longer the volunteers watched the fires.
On the other hand the unnaturally muted and inverted fire video “agitated” the volunteers and increased stress levels.
Dr Lynn repeated the study three times, examining 226 volunteers in total.
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