Our ecologist Dr Brenda Lin walks through her research to discover whether nature or nurture is driving your love of the outdoors.
As a youngster, did your parents ever drag you kicking and screaming for long walks in the nearest national park on a particularly hot Saturday?
At the time you probably thought they were being terrible. And your complaining could only be eased by the promise of an ice cream at the conclusion of this regular weekend torture.
Fast forward 30 years and, to your own surprise, you are now the parent encouraging your kids to step away from technology and into the great outdoors. After all, it is “for just one bloomin’ afternoon”.
Well, this is no coincidence. It is, in fact, science.
Does nurture explain our attachment to nature?
A group of international scientists, including our ecologist Dr Brenda Lin, have released a study in PLOS Biology journal. The research team used a groups of twins to figure out if people’s desire to spend time in nature is heritable, meaning it can be genetically passed down.
They discovered people’s desire for nature experiences are partially heritable. However, environmental influences are the predominant drivers. This means some of the desire for nature can be explained by genetics. But environmental factors including education, familiarity with nature, and learned behaviour, can have a greater influence.
So, it’s the nature (genetics) versus nurture (environment) debate. You can thank your parents for your adult appreciation of nature. But it wasn’t entirely in your genes.
For the study, scientists surveyed 2306 adult twins in the United Kingdom. They examined how much genetic versus environmental influences explain individual variations in nature experiences. They also considered home location, and the frequency and duration of public and domestic garden or nature visits.
The researchers found that although we may have a certain affinity with nature, this can change with time and circumstances.
Brenda says the levels of urbanisation around you can impact on your use of green spaces. For instance, public nature space visits significantly reduced with increasing levels of urbanisation.
She says education and policy that helps drive this desire to be in nature can help the general population have more positive nature experiences with associated wellbeing benefits.
Nature is good for the soul
Most people have experienced first-hand the welcome joy of a ‘permitted picnic’ in the great outdoors during COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
Time and again, research has shown that interaction with nature can improve people’s health and wellbeing.
But how do we get people outdoors to gain these benefits? Especially as urban life becomes increasingly time poor and technology driven.
Brenda says understanding why people differ in their desire to be in nature, and how they experience nature, is critical.
“We can then develop educational materials and supporting policies that improve opportunities and desire to interact with nature,” she says.
And let’s face it, that’s not only good for our genes but helps us to feel good in our jeans.