I wonder how they did this

Being raised in a greener environment boosts urban children’s intelligence and makes them better behaved, a study has found.
Researchers in Belgium found that living near parks, sports fields or community gardens raised city-dwelling children’s IQ levels and that they also exhibited less difficult behaviour.
The paper, published in the journal Plos Medicine, found that an 3.3 per cent increase in green space within 3,000 metres of a child’s home was associated with a 2.6 point rise in overall IQ.

Living near parks – ie green space – in an urban environment is positively correlated with household income.

44 thoughts on “I wonder how they did this”

  1. Is it a rise in IQ caused by moving to such places, or that the IQ is already higher because of being from a family capable of living in such places?

  2. I thought it would be the second option. But the article as quoted (perhaps unsurprisingly) talks of the IQs being ‘raised’ or of their ‘rising’ as if a move to a parky environment has a sort of baby Mozart* impact.

    * The impact could be measured for all of about 15 minutes.

  3. “Living near parks – ie green space – in an urban environment is positively correlated with household income. ”
    The article goes on to say that they corrected for that.
    But maybe they didn’t correct for poorer people who preferred to raise a family closer to the park rather than raise a family closer to McDonalds.

  4. “Living near parks – ie green space – in an urban environment is positively correlated with household income. ”
    The article goes on to say that they corrected for that.

    In my family, income is not correlated with IQ. The smarter ones tend not to be very ambitious, but like an interesting life, and will sacrifice money to have it. The duller ones are prepared to plug away at boring jobs for the money.

    You simply cannot “correct” for household income relative to IQ. There are far too many imponderables. It is much more likely that those who choose to live near parks are those that prioritise lifestyle over money.

  5. I was amused to read that a “Notable Article” from Plos Medicine was:-

    “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”.

  6. Insignificant and barely measurable change in something is correlated with insignificant and barely measurable change in something else.

    HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!

  7. @CD…

    It’s a standard leftist loser trope, to justify why they refuse to sully their hands with a bit of hard graft.

  8. Couldn’t read the article, but…

    Was this a group of children who lived not near green space who had their IQ measured and then moved to be near greenery and IQ measured again?

    I doubt it. So did they measure IQ’s of children not near v near green spaces and thereby ignore all other confounding factors?

    Were their children not near greenery with IQs equivalent to children near green space and vice versa? If the answer is yes, most likely, then there is no correlation and without that causality cannot be claimed.

  9. That must of been a tricky piece of research. Where did they find kids growing up more that 3km from an accessible green space? Oh Belgium! Where in Belgium? Certainly wouldn’t apply to the UK. Certainly not London. There is nowhere in London further than 3km from a park. Shouldn’t think Paris, either. Nor Brussels, for that matter. There are parts of Madrid can be uniformly urban… You really need the developing world for cities of unrelieved streets of buildings with no open spaces.

  10. Come to think of it, I can see an explanation. Pretty well all European cities are to some extent planned. Planned to have green spaces in them. The planning having been done a century or more ago. So Europeans were bright enough, a century back, to construct cities that were good to live in. Most developing world cities are just unplanned sprawl spread out from their core. But they came to building large cities later. So maybe there’s an IQ signal somewhere to be found.

  11. Given that iq is not a measurement of intelligence per se but a measure of performance in certain tests

    And given that all those tests have errors
    And given that the iq derived from these tests must also have errors

    I conclude that the spurious accuracy of this report, combined with the myriad factors that may or may not have been present and which are not reported, means that it is bollox

  12. It’s got to be city-dwelling, though. Too much greenery and Marx’s “Idiocy of rural life” kicks in.

  13. Need to correct for absent fathers. Men enjoy walking in the woods, so they seek out homes near forests. Young women with small children are scared of walking in the woods alone: they prefer smaller parks with more foot traffic.

  14. Roué le Jour,

    The council house I spent the first 18 years of my life living in is opposite a small wood and a field. Along side the field, a lane leads to the River Wey, though nowadays you have to cross the M25 to get to it. No doubt, had there been another row of council houses opposite, I’d never have passed the 11 Plus, would have gone to the local secondary modern, passed three CSEs and ended up working for the local council.

  15. So Much For Subtlety

    Belgium? From what I can see of Brussels a significant percentage of the inner city population has some other factors that may influence IQ results.

    Melanin for instance.

    Being descended from 1300 years of marrying their first cousins for another.

  16. As others have commented 3 km (1.86 miles) is not particularly adjacent. That’s a circle with an area of 28.3 km2 (10.87 sq miles). It would be a really crappy urban area for there not to be one piece of green space in that size of area. Do the kids need to go there are do they just absorb it’s green goodness via telepathic osmosis. 3 km is a long way and a long time to walk for a child – cos the climate alarmists will insist only a journey on foot is acceptable.

    Google searches show that Brussels has 8000 hectares (80 km2) out an area of 161 km2, so is slightly under 50% green space. London has 44% of its 1569 km2 as green space.

    So, good news, we are already getting the “benefits” of this and don’t need to do anything.

  17. “The article goes on to say that they corrected for that.” Aye, but ‘controlling’ for confounders is an error-prone art: you’d need God-like omniscience to get it right reliably.

    In my twenties I spent a bit of time around psychologists/sociologists, and very instructive it was.

  18. “living near parks, sports fields or community gardens”
    I can offer a one word counter-study of the effect of living in parks, sports fields or community gardens. Gyppos.

  19. Psychological tests are dubious at best. Even IQ tests are only about 90% repeatable. Others are worse – the Myers Briggs comes in at 50%, a toss of the coin.
    So anything that claims a 2 or 3% effect is essentially worthless.

  20. philip

    Myers Briggs not repeatable? Interesting. Nothing more than various anecdote admittedly, but my experience is reasonably consistently repeatable. And struggling to think why they wouldn’t be; or why say an introvert on a Tuesday might identify as an extrovert on a Wednesday? Certainly more than a 50% toss of a coin?

  21. PF
    Not according to What’s Your Type? a not funny enough history of the MB type indicator. Of course, if you are far out on the spectrum your result will reproduce, but most people aren’t.

    Whether psycho tests are reproducible is also skewed by how many are conducted. If you have very high or very low IQ you will get tested often, for mortals like me perhaps twice in a lifetime.

  22. “Of course, if you are far out on the spectrum your result will reproduce, but most people aren’t.”

    When I said anecdotally, I didn’t simply mean myself, I meant a reasonable number of people I know who have done this, and do fit to a good extent (and have repeated).

    Interesting what you say all the same.

  23. I guess there are three psy experiments everyone has heard of. The Milgram, the Stanford Prison and the Marshmallow.
    The last seems the most plausible, as well as making us feel better about ourselves. But even this test is far from reliable
    https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/marshmallow-test/561779/

    Scientific and psy experiments are very different. Science tests a hypothesis, psy puts the conclusion in front of the data. It seems the field is crowded with crooks, charlatans and gulls, and that human nature is too complex to be distilled by humans. Good.

  24. A particular issue with MBTI and similar “personality type” tests is that most of these constructs are distributed with the mode in the middle, and a few people out in the left or right tails. So there are a few clearly distinguishable introverts and extroverts or whatever you’re measuring, and far more people who are just “in-betweeners” – trying to categorise, and especially to dichotomise, is a fool’s errand. People on the extremes may get repeatable results but the bulk of people in the middle won’t. If you’re prepared to accept traits as more about a continuum than clearly delineated categories, there’s some value in eg the OCEAN personality assessments. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits

  25. Also re this study. Correcting for confounders is somewhere between hard and impossible to do right, or even to do “well enough”. As dearieme got in before me…

    Couple of commentators above saying the effect looks too small to be meaningful anyway. I would suggest the reverse – to me it looks too large to be plausible. Punching the numbers into my calculator, a 20% rise in “local” green-space – easily the kind of variation you could get between towns with different planning – being associated with a 15 point rise in IQ? Now I don’t think IQ tests are the be-all and end-all of human intelligence, but that would be a pretty noticeable effect. And the fact it could correspond entirely to extra green-space in places you don’t even visit? Hmm. I could buy the idea that a more varied environment might stimulate the developing brain a bit more, but you’re fairly unlikely to walk more than 2 km from your home, so on that basis 56% of the area within a 3 km radius you’re unliely to come into much contact with. In fact only 11% of it is within 1 km away, which is what I would think of as ‘nearby’.

  26. So Much For Subtlety

    philip August 25, 2020 at 4:03 pm – “I guess there are three psy experiments everyone has heard of. The Milgram, the Stanford Prison and the Marshmallow.”

    The problem with this is that the Milgram experiment was written up in a manner that misled. Fraud is what I would call it.

    https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/the-shocking-truth-of-the-notorious-milgram-obedience-experiments

    It turns out the Stanford prison experiment is garbage too – some of the “guards” and some of the “prisoners” were coached in what was wanted of them. Which leave the Marshmallow test.

    “The last seems the most plausible, as well as making us feel better about ourselves. But even this test is far from reliable”

    I am not sure that is what that article is saying. She says that Middle Class parents make their children wait for a treat while Working Class parents splurge because their lives are so terrible. But isn’t that just what the Marshmallow test is all about?

    I expect this finding is true. Or I believe it to be true anyway so it probably is. After all, the only robust finding in social sciences is that our prejudices are true. But what is interesting is how Walter Mischel described it coming about. He did field work in Trinidad:

    “The marshmallow experiment allowed us to see how children managed to delay and resist temptation, and how differences in this ability play out over a lifetime. But what about the choice itself? I started to ask that question while I was a graduate student at Ohio State University, well before I joined the Stanford faculty. I spent one summer living near a small village in the southern tip of Trinidad.

    The inhabitants in this part of the island were of either African or East Indian descent, their ancestors having arrived as either slaves or indentured servants. Each group lived peacefully in its own enclave, on different sides of the same long dirt road that divided their homes.… I discovered a recurrent theme in how they characterized each other. According to the East Indians, the Africans were just pleasure-bent, impulsive, and eager to have a good time and live in the moment, while never planning or thinking ahead about the future. The Africans saw their East Indian neighbors as always working and slaving for the future, stuffing their money under the mattress without ever enjoying life”

    “To check if the perceptions about the differences between the ethnic groups were accurate, I walked down the long dirt road to the local school, which was attended by children from both groups.” “I tested boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14. I asked the children who lived in their home, gauged their trust that promises made would be promises kept, and assessed their achievement motivation, social responsibility, and intelligence. At the end of each of these sessions, I gave them choices between little treats: either one tiny chocolate that they could have immediately or a much bigger one that they could get the following week”

    “The young adolescents in Trinidad who most frequently chose the immediate smaller rewards, in contrast to those who chose the delayed larger ones, were more often in trouble and, in the language of the time, judged to be “juvenile delinquents.” Consistently, they were seen as less socially responsible, and they had often already had serious issues with authorities and the police. They also scored much lower on a standard test of achievement motivation and showed less ambition in the goals they had for themselves for the future.

    Consistent with the stereotypes I heard from their parents, the African Trinidadian kids generally preferred the immediate rewards, and those from East Indian families chose the delayed ones much more often. But surely there was more to the story. Perhaps those who came from homes with absent fathers—a common occurrence at that time in the African families in Trinidad, while very rare for the East Indians—had fewer experiences with men who kept their promises. If so, they would have less trust that the stranger—me—would ever really show up later with the promised delayed reward. There’s no good reason for anyone to forgo the “now” unless there is trust that the “later” will materialize. In fact, when I compared the two ethnic groups by looking only at children who had a man living in the household, the differences between the groups disappeared.”

  27. Bloke in North Dorset

    Scientific and psy experiments are very different. Science tests a hypothesis, psy puts the conclusion in front of the data. It seems the field is crowded with crooks, charlatans and gulls, and that human nature is too complex to be distilled by humans. Good.

    I’m currently listening to this podcast and there’s a good discussion on those subjects, esp fraud and how its identified. They make a worrying point that scientists who get away with fraud to get tenure then go on to hire people who will most likely perpetuate the belief in the fraudulent results.

    Today’s guest is Stuart Ritchie, psychologist and author of Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth.

    Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless – or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad science – with sometimes deadly consequences.

    Stuart Ritchie’s own work challenging an infamous psychology experiment helped spark what is now widely known as the “replication crisis,” the realization that supposed scientific truths are often just plain wrong. Now, he reveals the very human biases, misunderstandings, and deceptions that undermine the scientific endeavor: from contamination in science labs to the secret vaults of failed studies that nobody gets to see; from outright cheating with fake data to the more common, but still ruinous, temptation to exaggerate mediocre results for a shot at scientific fame.

    Yet Science Fictions is far from a counsel of despair. Rather, it’s a defense of the scientific method against the pressures and perverse incentives that lead scientists to bend the rules. By illustrating the many ways that scientists go wrong, Ritchie gives us the knowledge we need to spot dubious research and points the way to reforms that could make science trustworthy once again.

  28. Bloke in North Dorset

    smfs,

    I expect this finding is true. Or I believe it to be true anyway so it probably is. After all, the only robust finding in social sciences is that our prejudices are true. But what is interesting is how Walter Mischel described it coming about. He did field work in Trinidad:

    That’s an interesting story with a lot more to it I’m sure.

    Does he say which community is richer and by how much? How about other indicators like longevity?

    It would be interesting to know if any follow up work was done looking at the communities they came from? If a slave with nothing to look forward to why not get you enjoyment while you can? Its not like slave owners and drivers weren’t capricious and likely to take it away later or not keep to promises.

    Conversely, if you’re indentured there’s light at the end of the tunnel and a life to save for and if those promises were kept you’re more likely to believe in planning and delayed gratification.

    I was listening to a very long series about the Haitian revolution and one point that was made was that slaves can from many areas and were just thrown in together and told to get on with it. They rarely spoke the same language and in some cases were from warring tribes. Not good for building a high trust society.

    Were indentured labourers from the same are with common cultural practices passed down the years?

  29. Couple of commentators above saying the effect looks too small to be meaningful anyway. I would suggest the reverse – to me it looks too large to be plausible.

    It can of course be both too small to be meaningful and too large to be plausible.

  30. “A particular issue with MBTI and similar “personality type” tests is that most of these constructs are distributed with the mode in the middle, and a few people out in the left or right tails. So there are a few clearly distinguishable introverts and extroverts or whatever you’re measuring, and far more people who are just “in-betweeners” – trying to categorise, and especially to dichotomise, is a fool’s errand.”

    Perhaps, but I’m not entirely convinced.

    At one end, M/F is binary; at the other, height is a bell curve (mode in the middle). The response to “Do you like marmite?” is mostly going to be more the former than the latter. Equally, some personality characteristics might skew more towards the former than the latter. (Even if using wide scores (say of 1 to 10) rather than Y/N).

  31. And maybe the possible issue of modal versus binary is simply trying to pack too much into one measure? If a single measure is defined with perhaps disparate notions, it becomes less useful in any case.

  32. @PF

    There are psychometric methods for trying to see which traits or constructs have been overloaded and try to strip them into compobent parts, but most of the ones that are well-supported (eg as reproducible as OCEAN are) seem to be matters of degree. Dunno why but worth pointing out there’s strong biological-level dimorphism underlying male and female in a way there isn’t between people who are agreeable and people who aren’t – if something is controlled by a myriad of genes and experiences, then like height you might reasonably expect it to lie on a spectrum.

    @GC

    Area within 1 km is 1pi sq km. Within 2 km is 4pi and within 3 km is 9pi. So yes, 56% of stuff that’s within 3 km from your house isn’t within 2 km. And I suspect you’re generally massively more likely to interact with stuff within 2 than 3 km, particularly as 3 km is beyond “easy” (for the modern day kid) walking distance, so the majority of the measure being based on stuff 2 km away seems dodgy to me.

  33. The paper, published in the journal Plos Medicine, found that an 3.3 per cent increase in green space within 3,000 metres of a child’s home was associated with a 2.6 point rise in overall IQ

    3,000 metres = 3km = 2miles.

    I’d say very few in UK live more than 2 miles from green space, park etc – even in cities. Bear in mind, many parks are surrounded by buildings so unseen when driving, but locals know they’re there. Six ‘hidden’ parks within 2 miles of here, one has eight entrances, all between buildings plus a main grandiose arched entrance. They are visible on maps/aerial-photos though

    A 2.6% rise from 3.3% more? Would anyone notice a 3.3% rise in ‘green space’? Correlation, not causation imo

    @Commander Jameson
    Spot on

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