Growing up in green spaces boosts your IQ, new study finds - Planet Ark Environmental Foundation

Growing up in green spaces boosts your IQ, new study finds

By Lucy Jones  August 28th, 2020

Children living in green urban spaces are more intelligent, have longer attention spans and display lower levels of aggressive behaviour, according to a new study.

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It’s official: spending time in nature makes you a smarter. A study of 620 children aged between 7 and 15 years old has found that growing up in green urban environments improves IQ levels and lowers behavioural problems.

The research, conducted by a team at Belgium’s Hasselt University, shows that a 3% increase in green space boosts IQ levels by 2.6 points. Higher levels of green space were also associated with a decrease in behavioural issues such as aggression and hyperactivity. These trends were observed across children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

The health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. Simple actions such as planting or hugging a tree can improve your mood, reduce anxiety and combat loneliness. The term ‘biophilia’ was coined by biologist Edward Wilson to describe this fundamental human need to connect with nature. You can find out more about the numerous psychological and social benefits of nature in this year’s Tree Day report.

A large body of existing research indicates that spending time in green spaces makes us happier and healthier, but this study is the first to make a connection between nature and intelligence. Published in health journal Plos Medicine, the study suggests that exposure to green urban spaces increases IQ levels by: reducing noise and air pollution, providing opportunities for physical and social activity and mitigating the effects of stress. Together, these factors help to improve memory and focus.   

“There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention,” Tim Nawrot, professor of environmental epidemiology at Hasselt University, told The Guardian.

“What this study adds with IQ is a harder, well-established clinical measure. I think city builders or urban planners should prioritise investment in green spaces because it is really of value to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential.”

The amazing intellectual and behavioural benefits of green spaces for kids is the reason we’re so passionate about initiatives like National Tree Day. Since 1996 we’ve been working with schools and communities to teach children practical life skills, such as digging, planting and getting your hands dirty, in a fun environment. The results of this study provide further evidence that such activities deliver positive developmental benefits.

Dr Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the UK’s Exeter University, said the study could help us rethink the definition of intelligence.

“I’m always wary of the term intelligence as it has a problematic history and unfortunate associations,” White told The Guardian. “But, if anything, this study might help us move away from seeing intelligence as innate — it could be influenced by environment, and I think that is much more healthy.”

We knew all those lazy afternoons at the beach were making us smarter!

Head here to read the report in full.

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 

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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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