Children raised near greener areas have higher IQs, study finds

Spending time in green spaces seems to yield many health benefits, most of which researchers are only beginning to understand.

crowd of people in a park
  • The longitudinal study examined the development of pairs of twins growing up in various parts of Belgium.
  • The results revealed a positive relationship between growing up near greener spaces and having a higher IQ.
  • The differences were especially significant on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum, suggesting that policy changes could make a significant difference in intellectual development.

The United Nations projects that 68 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. That has some researchers worried. After all, studies show that urbanites are more likely to have psychiatric disorders, lower happiness, sleep problems, and cardiovascular and respiratory problems due to pollution, to name a few issues.

One key factor that distinguishes urban from suburban and rural environments is green space. Studies show that spending time outdoors in green spaces can decrease conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression, and also boost performance on tests related to cognitive performance and attention span.

A new study suggests that growing up in environments with more green space — even urban environments with parks — may boost intelligence and lower problematic behavior.

Intelligence is shown in association with green space in a 3,000-m radius around the current residence in twins living in an urban (n = 232), suburban (n = 126), and a rural area (n = 254)

Bijnens et al.

In the study, published in PLoS Medicine, researchers examined the development of 310 pairs of twins between the ages 10 and 15 living in Belgium. Using satellite imagery, the researchers measured the amount of green spaces near the homes of the twins, which were located in rural, suburban, or urban environments. The researchers then compared the proximity to green spaces with intelligence, and also adjusted for factors like sex, age, and neighborhood household income.

The results revealed a significant positive correlation: An increase of 3.6 percent in green space was associated with an IQ boost of 2.6 points, and a decrease of 2 points on the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist, which measures behavioral problems.

What's more, children raised in low-green environments were more likely to have an IQ below 80. Similarly, while 11.9 percent of kids raised in a green environment had an IQ in the superior range, only 4.2 percent of kids raised in low-green environments tested in this range.

It's not completely clear what explains these findings, but the study notes that previous research has revealed:

  • Relationships between noise and air pollution and diminished cognitive development
  • Green spaces can promote physical activity and stress reduction
  • City parks may also promote social connection
two people sitting on rock overlooking


To be sure, the study only established a statistically significant correlation—it didn't conclude that a lack of green space causes lowered intelligence in children. Still, the researchers said their findings contribute to the growing body of research on the health risks of city living, and how green spaces factor into the mix.

"There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention," Tim Nawrot, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Hasselt University in Belgium, 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."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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