Being raised in a greener environment boosts urban children’s intelligence and makes them better behaved, a study has found.
Researchers in Belgium found that living near parks, sports fields or community gardens raised city-dwelling children’s IQ levels and that they also exhibited less difficult behaviour.
The paper, published in the journal Plos Medicine, found that an 3.3 per cent increase in green space within 3,000 metres of a child’s home was associated with a 2.6 point rise in overall IQ.
“A higher percentage of residential green space is associated with higher intelligence and lower behavioural problems in 7–15-year-old children living in urban areas,” the authors, led by Esmée Bijnens of Belgium’s Hasselt University, concluded.
In US studies, exposure to nature has previously been linked to better attention levels and performance at school, but this is thought to be the first study examining the link between intelligence and growing up near green space.
Children living in less green areas were more likely to have IQs in the lowest cohort, below 80, and particularly unlikely to have IQs in the highest cohort, above 125.
The researchers also found that exposure to green space while still in a mother’s womb was linked to higher IQ.
The study followed 310 pairs of twins born between 1980 and 1991 and living in East Flanders, including its capital Ghent.
Researchers tested the children’s IQ and asked their parents to assess their behaviour. Satellite imagery was used to assess the levels of greenery close to their homes.
The reason for the link is unknown, but the authors suggested that children who spent more time in nature might experience less of the air pollution, noise, and heat that can be particularly prevalent in cities.
The researchers accounted for socio-economic factors and largely discounted the possibility that those from more advantaged backgrounds simply had greater access to green spaces.
Green spaces also “encourage health-promoting activities and facilitate social cohesion”, they said.
The same results were not seen in children growing up in suburban or rural environments, which could be because such children already had access to sufficient green space for all of them to benefit, the researchers suggested.
Previous studies have suggested that the type of green space might also be significant. A 2014 study found that children in Massachusetts, a heavily wooded state, did better on English and Maths tests at age 8 and 9 if they were living in greener areas, but a follow-up study in Chicago, in an area with fewer trees, could not replicate the results, which the authors suggested was because they did not distinguish between wooded areas and other types of greenery.