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Lack of green space affects our cognitive development

Children living in urban greener neighborhoods may have better spatial working memory, according to a British Journal of Educational Psychology study. Spatial working memory is responsible for recording information about one's environment and spatial orientation, and it is strongly inter-related with attentional control.

Although I grew up in the 1950-60s in a council housing estate in London, it was at that time beautifully maintained, and we were fortunate as children to be surrounded by green space.

We walked in the local park and not far away was Wimbledon Common.  We were, in that sense at least, rich.  

Does lack of green space affect cognitive ability?

Biologists often say that we humans are hunter-gatherers living in a concrete jungle.  But how does this jungle affect our cognitive development, and our awareness of it?

A new study of 4758 11-year-olds in England, shows that living in urban areas with limited green space is related to poorer spacial working memory.  This is not simply a reflection of poverty.  It is so in both deprived and non-deprived neighbourhoods.

The findings suggest a positive role of green space in cognitive functioning.  Lead author, Dr Elrini Flouri, of University College London, tells us

Spatial working memory is an important cognitive ability that is strongly related with academic achievement in children, particularly mathematics performance.

If the association between neighbourhood green space and children’s spatial working memory is causal, then these findings could be used to inform decisions about both education and urban planning.


What is spatial working memory?

Working memory is the limited‐capacity store we use for holding information over a short period of time, and our mental use of what we put in this store.

Spatial working memory is the retention and processing of visuospatial information and is strongly interrelated with attentional control.



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