Green Spaces Influence the Cognitive Development in Children

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and led by researchers of CREAL, an ISGlobal allied centre, reports a link between exposure to green spaces at school and enhanced cognitive development in primary schoolchildren.

Although it is believed that contact with nature plays a crucial and irreplaceable role in brain development, scientific evidence for such role is still scarce. In order to test the association between cognitive maturation and exposure to green spaces at home and school and during commutes, a study led by Payam Dadvand and coordinated by Jordi Sunyer, monitored changes in cognitive measures among almost 2,600 schoolchildren between 7 and 10 years of age in Barcelona, Spain, during more than one year.

The results show that exposure to greenness within and around schools-as determined by satellite data- was linked to enhanced working memory capacities and reduced inattentiveness, regardless of ethnicity, maternal education, and parental employment. "The observed influence of green spaces on cognitive development could be in part explained by their ability to reduce air pollution, that in turn has been negatively linked to cognitive development", explains Dadvand. However, no link was observed between exposure to greenness at home and cognitive measures. "Given the soaring rates of global urbanization, expanding green spaces at schools might lead to improvements in cognitive development for schoolchildren, which ultimately can result in an advantage in mental capital at the population level" concludes Sunyer. "Barcelona is a city with high pollution levels and relatively few green areas. As the CREAL researcher Mark Nieuwenhuijsen points out, "this study further supports the city council's efforts to reforest the city and promote public and active transportation".


Payam Dadvand et al. Green Spaces and Cognitive Development in Primary Schoolchildren; A Prospective Study. PNAS, June 2015.