Be one with the trees, stay out of jail.
It’s no secret that nature is beneficial to our individual well-being — according to researchers at the University of Minnesota, being in nature reduces anger, fear, and stress. It stimulates positive feelings by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and the production of stress hormones. Even further, research has found exposure to nature reduces physical pain. However, all of these compelling benefits are based on our individual selves, but a new study looks at nature’s impact on entire communities.
Researchers looked at nationally representative data from the United Kingdom, determining that contact with nature was linked to less crime and better social and community interactions.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers examined the relationships between individual and community assessments of contact with nature, community cohesion, and local crime rates, according to the press release. They asked 2,000 study participants from various communities to answer questions about amount of time spent in nature and how accessible nature was from their homes — for instance, when they look outside, do they see trees and farmland or concrete city buildings?
After the researchers pooled the responses and compared between communities, the results were “striking,” as they describe in the study — contact with nature appeared to be significantly linked with community union and reduced crime.
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The researchers also controlled for other factors like unemployment rates, population density, and socioeconomic standing. They found that eight percent of the variance in perceptions of community cohesion could be explained by subjective experiences of local nature alone, according to the study. This perception of a stronger, more united community also correlated with other benefits, like higher workplace productivity and concern for the environment.
Eight percent may not sound like much, but the authors wrote that it was, “a striking finding given that individual predictors such as income, gender, age, and education together accounted for only three percent of independent variance.”
When it came to crime rates, nature accounted for four percent of the variation, making contact with nature almost as powerful of a factor in crime as socioeconomic deprivation, which accounted for five percent of the variance in crime. "The more nature in one's surroundings, the less crime was reported in the area," the researchers wrote.
It’s clear that contact with nature showed a significant link to social unity and reduced crime, but how did it have such an impact? "It might be that green space encourages people to band together and support their communities in ways that discourages local crime," Dr. Netta Weinstein, a psychologist at Cardiff University and one of the study's authors, told The Huffington Post.
Based on the vast research that has shown the psychological benefits of contact with nature, it makes sense that nature would foster a closer relationship between communities and discourage crime. Though further research is needed, this study raises even more of a concern over the environmental destruction related to climate change as well as increasing urbanization which disconnects people from nature.
The study authors hope that their research "stimulates consideration of how best to ensure that nature, at many different levels, can continue to benefit individuals and society into the future."
Hopefully future plans for construction in big cities incorporate more green space. Not only could societies see an increase in social ties and a reduction in crime, but plants also give us the air we breathe, which is a pretty nice thing to have after all.