Green open spaces in neighborhoods give children a place to play, but these pockets of nature could do more than just give kids a place to explore. New research shows children living near green spaces have higher IQs than children living in less green areas.
The study from Hasselt University in Belgium looked at 620 children between the age of 7 and 15 living in urban, suburban, and rural parts of Belgium. Using satellite imagery to calculate the amount of green space a child had access to, the researchers compared scores on intelligence and behavioral assessments with open space proximity. Their findings? Kids living in urban areas with three percent more greenery scored an average of 2.6 points higher in IQ. They also scored lower on the rate of behavioral challenges, such as aggression and poor attention span.
Previous research has found similar correlations, but some argued that the higher IQ levels could be due to the more financial resources available to families who can afford to live near large green spaces. However, even when the researchers in this study controlled for the wealth and education levels of the children’s parents, they still found a correlation between access to nature and intelligence.
The findings open up a new realm of study in the field of education. They suggest that environmental factors could play an important role in intelligence and raise new concerns in terms of environmental inequalities as marginalized communities traditionally are also located in areas of environmental degradation. Lastly, it reinforces support for schools with outdoor education curriculums and incentivizes parents to seek out experiences in nature with their children even if they live in urban areas.
Access to green spaces is a privilege that not all children have while growing up, but this new research suggests that schools and parents should encourage outdoor exploration, and urban planning should prioritize green space as a public health factor.