A dose of nature

A dose of nature: Two three-level meta-analyses of the beneficial effects of exposure to nature on children’s self-regulation

Summary

Children with greater exposure to nature demonstrate higher levels of self-regulation

Two separate meta-analyses were conducted on the effect of exposure to nature on children’s self-regulation. One meta-analysis included only correlational studies; the other quasi-experimental (non-random assignment to intervention and control groups) and experimental (random assignment to intervention and control groups) studies. A meta-analysis is a statistical technique used to combine evidence presented in a number of other individual studies. Combining evidence yields a more precise and accurate estimation of effects than what an individual study can do. The literature search for these meta-analyses yielded 31 studies: 15 correlational; 16 (quasi-)experimental.

The meta-analysis on the correlational studies showed a small but significant positive association between nature and self-regulation in children. These results indicated that children living in greener neighborhoods or who have more frequent exposure to nature demonstrate better self-regulation than children with less nature exposure. Studies using parent-report to assess exposure to nature showed stronger associations than studies using an index of surrounding greenery. The meta-analysis on the (quasi-)experimental studies showed similar results: Children with more exposure to nature showed better self-regulation than children in a control group with less exposure to nature. Overall, more than 50% of the included studies showed significant positive effects of exposure to nature on children’s self-regulation. Two reported a significant negative effect.

These meta-analyses support the idea that a natural environment is beneficial for child development and that it can have a positive impact specifically on children’s cognitive, affective, and behavioral self-regulation. The fact that there was no evidence of sample characteristics – such as children’s age, gender, and ethnicity – influencing the results, suggests that exposure to nature is beneficial for all children within the targeted age-range (4-12 years).

This research suggests that “nature may be a promising tool in stimulating children’s self-regulation, and possibly preventing child psychopathology.” While these findings have meaningful implications for public health and clinical practice, more rigorous experimental studies are recommended.

Citation

Weeland, J., Moens, M.A., Beute, F., Assink, M., Staaks, J.P.C., Overbeek, G., (2019). A dose of nature: Two three-level meta-analyses of the beneficial effects of exposure to nature on children’s self-regulation. Journal of Environmental Psychology

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