The nature effect is real and increasingly being measured and quantified. Access to greenspace is strongly correlated with better behavior and cognition and now it’s been correlated with higher intelligence. Urban kids with three percent more greenspace had IQs about 2.6 points higher than kids with less, a peer-reviewed study published last week in the Plos Medicine journal showed. It also found that four percent of kids in places with less greenspace had IQs under 80, while areas with more vegetation had zero kids below 80. The reasons aren’t clear, but it’s suggested that lower stress, higher social contact, and a quieter soundscape are factors.
“Intelligence” is tricky. “I’m always wary of the term intelligence as it has a problematic history and unfortunate associations,” Dr. Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at Exeter University in the UK, 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.”
Indeed, it adds weight to the idea of nature as healer. Memory and attention are both improved by access to nature, and many biomarkers are improved, too (see forest bathing, etc.). This study, by adding quantifiable evidence of the benefits, underscores the importance of time spent in natural settings for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 76 percent of low income Americans are “nature-deprived,” according to The Nature Gap, a study by the Center for American Progress. In some states, the percentages of people of color who grow up without access to greenspace is shocking. In Connecticut, for example, 93 percent of people of color live in areas without easy access to nature.
For solutions, learning more about the efforts of the Trust for Public Land is a good place to start. For more on nature’s positive effects on the human body, read Florence Williams’ The Nature Fix. For a primer on getting your kids out there, comfortably, read, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature.