Children in Greener Urban Neighborhoods Have Higher IQs, Study Finds
A new study found that children living in greener urban areas had higher IQs than children living in less green areas. Imgorthand / Getty Images
One of the best things you can do for your child’s well-being may be to raise them somewhere green.
The latest study to examine the positive impacts of nature on children found that children living in greener urban areas had higher IQs than children living in less green areas.
“There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention,” study coauthor and Hasselt University in Belgium environmental epidemiology professor Tim Nawrot told The Guardian. “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.”
The research, published in PLOS Medicine on August 18, looked at 620 children between seven and 15 years old living in urban, suburban and rural parts of Belgium. It used satellite imagery to calculate the amount of green space a child had access to, and then compared this with their scores on intelligence and behavioral assessments, The Guardian explained.
Children living in urban areas with three percent more greenery scored an average of 2.6 points higher in IQ. They also scored two points lower in a metric of behavioral problems, like aggression and poor attention span.
The researchers did not find any benefit to additional greenery in suburban and rural environments, perhaps because these areas already had enough baseline greenery to make a difference.
The research builds on other studies that show time in nature benefits children’s behavior and mental health. An Aarhus University study published in February 2019 found that children who grew up with access to green space were 55 percent less likely to develop serious mental disorders later in life. A 2015 study based in Barcelona found that access to green space improved children’s cognitive development.
Another study published in June 2019 also looked at satellite images to compare British children’s access to nature with their performance on various cognitive tests. At first, it found an association between access to nature and cognitive ability, but it concluded that the children’s cognitive performance was better explained by their family and socio-economic status.
The Belgian study, however, also controlled for the wealth and education levels of the children’s parents, and found that access to green space still made a difference.
Exeter University environmental psychologist Dr. Mathew White, who was not involved with the most recent research, told The Guardian it could help create an understanding of intelligence as an environmental issue.
“I’m always wary of the term intelligence as it has a problematic history and unfortunate associations,” he said. “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.”