Time spent in the forest helps children’s brain development, new study finds

Many of you agree that spending time in nature is of obvious importance to the healthy development of a child. But what about the differences between forests, meadows, lakes and rivers? Do some environments have more impact? The answer is yes, according to a new British study. It reveals that children living near wooded areas show better cognitive performance and better mental health during adolescence.

The long-term study, involving 3,568 London pupils aged 9 to 15, shows that, on the other hand, other natural environments such as meadows, lakes and rivers, did not have the same impact – less for non-wooded green spaces and none for other environments. The reasons for these differences, however, are unknown.

These findings contribute to our understanding of types of natural environment as an important protective factor for cognitive development and adolescent mental health, and suggest that not all types of natural environment contribute equally to these benefits for adolescents. health », Write the authors. The results were published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

An effect on the brain that is still not understood

In the past, epidemiological studies in the United States and Denmark on children have shown that green spaces in residential areas are linked to a lower risk of mental health problems later in life. In the UK, similar studies have found that children living in greener urban neighborhoods have better spatial working memory. However, the reason for these results again remained a mystery.

The fact that greenery-filled environments shape the human brain to some extent seems obvious, but it’s still unclear why these, and in particular trees, seem to have such an impact on children’s cognitive development.

Some research suggests that green spaces are linked to structural changes in the brain, including increased white and gray matter, as well as positive changes in the amygdala, which helps control emotions. These changes could therefore be responsible for some of the cognitive and mental health effects observed in this study.

But it seems that trees have a bigger impact than other types of natural environments such as grasslands and lakes. As in this new UK study, other researchers have in the past found that only trees, and not greenery in general, are linked to better mental health. This could be related to the “fractal” patterns found in tree branches. Indeed, studies have shown that human beings, even as children, have an innate appreciation for these forms, and this could be among the things that soothe our spirits and invigorate certain brain pathways.

Results to be considered with a certain hindsight

However, like several previous studies on this subject, this new British study has its limits, notably the fact that just over half of the participants were part of a family in which at least one of the parents had a management profession. (or similar).

Indeed, a 2019 study clearly showed that if children who grow up surrounded by greenery perform better than their peers on cognitive tests, this does not necessarily mean that the proximity of trees is the reason … Socio-economic factors can also play an important role in a child’s development, and this may skew the results. ” Children raised in greener neighborhoods have better overall cognitive abilities “, Concluded the authors of the 2019 study,” but this association is probably explained by socio-economic factors of the family and the neighborhood “.

Greenery could also have an impact on our well-being by providing some protection against heat, city noise, or even pollution. There are a lot of factors to take into account before drawing any definitive conclusions. It is therefore still too early to know whether being surrounded by trees makes children more successful intellectually and whether this effect lasts a lifetime or not.

Nature Sustainability

On the same subject: Our Unveiled Intelligence

Intelligence would be down. Several studies on the IQ of populations affirm it… For what reason? Is the IQ sufficient to explain this prodigious faculty of the human being, which allowed him to dominate nature? Between innate (genetics) and acquired (the role of the environment, education, learning), many scientific disciplines dissect our intellectual capacities. We invite you to take a tour of these questions by watching the excellent documentary The Powers Of The Brain: Our Unveiled Intelligence.

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