Woodlands give young minds greater peace of mind

If you go down to the woods today… you’ll probably come back with improved mental wellbeing, according to a new study by Imperial College London and UCL.

For children, woodlands can be a mystical place where magic happens. Woodlands allow us to unplug from everyday life and return to nature, and there is a wealth of fresh evidence to suggest that this does a whole world of good for young minds.

SCAMP findings

In a newly-published study titled Study of Cognition, Adolescents, and Mobile Phones (SCAMP), one of the largest studies of its kind, Imperial College London spoke to over 3,500 children and teenagers, from the ages of nine to 15 years from schools all over London. The study wanted to see whether having grassland and woodland close to homes and schools had a tangible impact on a child’s development, and the results showed a fascinating conclusion.

One possible explanation for our findings may be that audio-visual exposure through vegetation and animal abundance provides psychological benefits, of which both features are expected in higher abundance in woodland.

– Professor Kate Jones, UCL Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity

The study revealed that children and young people living with greater proximity to woodland had better cognitive development and were less likely to experience emotional or behavioural issues a couple of years down the road. The 9-15 age bracket was chosen, as it is typically deemed to be the most important time in a young person’s development, shaping their entire outlook on life and the world around them. While researchers couldn’t conclusively say whether air pollution levels have an impact on a child’s cognitive development, the paper did add that any observations on such matters required further investigation.

Plans for the future

While the study looked into mental wellbeing and cognitive development, its findings have a profound effect on how policymakers develop the physical spaces around which we live. In an increasingly digital and urban age, the study makes a case for protecting greenspaces and woodlands, as they are seemingly integral to improving the way our children grow.

The precise reasons why proximity to woodland are so beneficial to mental wellbeing are hard to pinpoint, but as Professor Kate Jones, UCL Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity explains, “One possible explanation for our findings may be that audio-visual exposure through vegetation and animal abundance provides psychological benefits, of which both features are expected in higher abundance in woodland.”

Perhaps a form of returning back to bare essentials – exercise through walking in the great outdoors, seeing birds, small vertebrates and insects – could all be reassuring to our brains on some level. Our brains might be perplexed by our world of bricks and mortar, glass and steel and long for a return to a greener time. One thing is for sure: ensuring exposure to a greener environment at an earlier age is highly likely to be conducive to improved development and potentially becoming a more well-rounded, happier person in the long-term.

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