A new study suggests that children who spend time in environments with green space growing up may have higher levels of intelligence.
“Our results indicate that residential green space may be beneficial for the intellectual and the behavioral development of children living in urban areas. These findings are relevant for policymakers and urban planners to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential,” the study noted.
The research, published in PLOS Medicine is the first to examine the relationship between contact with nature and IQ specifically.
Researchers looked at the development of twins between the ages of 10 and 15 living in Belgium. Using satellite imagery, they were able to measure the number of green spaces near the homes of the twins, who came from all socio-economic backgrounds.
The results showed a significant correlation between green space and IQ. A 3.6% increase in green space resulted in an IQ boost of 2.6 points. There was also a decrease in behavioral problems for children growing up in greener environments.
Alternatively, children growing up with less access to green areas were more likely to have an IQ below 80.
“There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention,” Tim Nawrot, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Hasselt University in Belgium, said. “What this study adds with IQ is a harder, well-established clinical measure. I think city builders or urban planners should prioritize investment in green spaces because it is really of value to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential.”
Past studies have shown that intelligence isn’t the only thing impacted when we spend time in nature. A long-term study conducted by Max Planck Institute for Human Development found that living near a forest, specifically, could result in a healthy amygdala, meaning better management of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Alternatively, studies have shown that living in a city, with less access to green spaces, means you are more likely to have psychiatric disorders, depression, trouble sleeping, and an increased chance of illness.
With a projected 70 percent of the world’s population living in cities by the year 2050, Extinction Rebellion activist Blue Sandford said it is crucial to create more green areas in urban environments.
“There aren’t enough green spaces, and there’s so many abandoned spaces you can make into parks,” Sandford explained. “And there are also lots of green spaces that aren’t wild. Like perhaps there’s a lawn in the middle of a square, but no one’s allowed to use it, which is such a waste.”
The results of the twin study confirm green areas are essential for more reasons than one.
“Green spaces provide environmental benefits, such as reducing exposure to air pollution, noise, and heat,” says the paper. “Moreover, green spaces encourage health-promoting activities and facilitate social cohesion.
That’s why educational consultant Jo Heywood says it’s so important to give children access to outdoor space in school, even in urban environments.
“As educators we should be cognizant of the fact that we should be developing a well-rounded, environmentally ground and respectful citizen,” Heywood said. “How can children know this from inside a classroom alone? Outside space for growing, exploring, and developing is vital no matter how small or large if we are to teach our young what they have and what they need to protect and respect.”