Emerging research finds that living in an urban community blessed with greenery such as parks, golf courses, or fields, appears to reduce teen aggression.
Experts explain that studies have shown that the families we grow up in, the places we work, and the friends we keep (our social environment) play a large role in influencing behavior.
Nevertheless, the influence of the physical environment on behavior, has not received extensive inquiry.
To address this void, researchers at the University of Southern California recently conducted the first longitudinal study to see whether greenery surrounding the home could reduce aggressive behaviors in a group of Southern California adolescents living in urban communities.
The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
The team, part of the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Department of Psychology, followed 1,287 adolescents, age nine to 18 years. They assessed the adolescents’ aggressive behaviors every two to three years, asking parents if their child physically attacked or threatened others, destroyed things, or exhibited other similar behaviors.
The researchers then linked the adolescents’ residential locations to satellite data to measure the levels of greenery in their neighborhoods.
The study found that nine to 18-year-olds who lived in places with more greenery had significantly less aggressive behaviors than those living in neighborhoods with less greenery. Both short-term (one to six months) and long-term (one to three years) exposure to greenspace within 1,000 meters surrounding residences were associated with reduced aggressive behaviors.
The behavioral benefit of greenspace equated to approximately two to two and a half years of adolescent maturation.
Interestingly, factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, parents’ educational background, occupation, income level, or marital status, and whether their mother smoked while pregnant or was depressed, did not affect the findings.
The results were validated by the finding that the green space benefits existed for both boys and girls of all ages and races/ethnicities. Moreover, the benefits spanned across populations with different socioeconomic backgrounds and living in communities with different neighborhood quality.
“Identifying effective measures to reduce aggressive and violent behaviors in adolescents is a pressing issue facing societies worldwide,” said Diana Younan, M.P.H., doctoral candidate at the Keck School of Medicine.
“It is important that we target aggressive behaviors early on. Our study provides new evidence that increasing neighborhood greenery may be an effective alternative intervention strategy for an environmental public health approach that has not been considered yet.”
Based on the study’s findings, University of Southern California investigators estimate that increasing greenery levels commonly seen in urban environments could result in a 12 percent decrease in clinical cases of aggressive behavior in California adolescents living in urban areas.
Researchers conclude that these results support the benefits of greenery in decreasing aggressive behaviors for adolescents living in urban communities.