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History of Outdoor Education

Outdoor Education Theory

A Psycho-Evolutionary Theory
of Outdoor Education

Re-engaging Intra-indigenous Consciousness

James Neill

Last updated:
01 Nov 2004

A psycho-evolutionary theory of outdoor education

Powerpoint Presentation:
A Psycho-Evolutionary Theory of Outdoor Education


Introduces the tenets of psycho-evolutionary theory (PET), the underlying rationale, and the implications for research and practice.  PET views outdoor education programs as a phenomenon of post-industrial society --  a semi-ritualistic, compensatory effort to reconnect with nature.  However, for the full power of outdoor education to be realised, it needs to focus on helping people understand their intra-indigenous consciousness, i.e., their deep knowing which can be unlocked through experiential rediscovery of our indigenous psyche.

James Neill, Tonia Gray, Graham Ellis-Smith, Jason Bocarro, Ricardo Sierra, & Kaushal Desai, 2nd International Outdoor Education Conference, Bendigo, Australia, July 6-9, 2004

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Three Key Terms

Psycho-Evolutionary Theory (PET)

Psycho-evolutionary theory (PET) proposes that our behaviors, attitudes, cognitions, emotions, are shaped by what proved adaptive during human evolution, i.e., our psychological lives are significantly due to the forces of natural selection.


Biophilia Hypothesis (BH)

The Biophilia Hypothesis (Wilson) proposes that human beings have genetically inherited a predisposition towards life-like processes and natural environments.

Intra-Indigenous consciousness (IIC)

Intra-indigenous Consciousness (IIC) is proposed as the cumulative psychological knowledge of human evolution which is genetically stored.  It is the vestigial indigenous psyche within each person which can be activated through direct experiences with nature and natural processes and  systems.


Summary: Psycho-evolutionary Theory of Outdoor Education

Outdoor education has emerged out of two forces our evolutionary history and the rapid cultural shift away from natural living forces of nature.  These forces have created a perfect storm and outdoor education has emerged in post-industrial Western societies as a semi-ritualistic compensatory effort for humans to re-engage with their indigenous heritage and inner indigenous nature.

In recent centuries, humans have rapidly evolved artificial living environments en masse. The rapid departure from relatively natural living environments has left strong vestigial physiological and psychological remnants of connections to nature which still predominantly drive human beings. However, since the biological needs of most human beings are reasonably well catered in post-industrial societies, human beings in these societies have leisure time, a significant portion of which humans use to engage in activities which bring them some steps back towards natural environments and activities which were akin to those of their ancestors.

Medical and psychological research has continued to find physical and psychological benefits for controlled exposure to natural environments.  There may also be deeper aspects of genetically inherited indigenous consciousness which are unlocked through living more simply in nature and exploring, studying and practicing indigenous skills and knowledge. Current systems of modern living, including urban living, nuclear families, and mainstream education may be doing students a disservice by not educating them at least for a time by exposing them to an indigenous-like lifestyle and indigenous-like knowledge.  Since first generation indigenous peoples and cultures have been so rapidly lost, there is an important role for outdoor education in the next century to experientially reconnect post-industrial 21st century societies with more basic, self-contained systems of living.

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