Biodiversity Can Provide Mental Health Benefits

Biodiversity is good for urbanites’ mental health
Biodiversity is good for urbanites’ mental health, research suggests.

Biological diversity in city parks and green spaces can have psychological benefits for humans, according to a new study from the United Kingdom. Researchers found that visitors to city parks with a greater diversity of birds, butterflies, plants, and other organisms reported feeling better than visitors to less-diverse green spaces. Such findings have important implications for urban planning and policy as the human population becomes increasingly urbanized, the study concludes.

Lead author Richard Fuller and colleagues at the University of Sheffield analyzed levels of biodiversity at 15 parks and green spaces across the U.K., then questioned visitors on whether their outings helped them clear their minds, gain perspective, think easily about personal matters, or feel connected with nature. Visitors to places with greater biodiversity not only felt better, but they were able to fairly accurately estimate the level of diversity in the area. “Public urban greenspaces provide one of the few avenues for direct contact with the natural environment,” the researchers write, adding that, “Such contact has measurable physical and psychological benefits.”

Similar studies point to the same conclusion. A nine-year survey of U.S. gall bladder patients showed that patients recovered faster and required less pain medication if their hospital windows overlooked trees rather than brick walls. Other research has indicated that inner city residents who had some nearby nature outside their apartments showed significantly lower levels of aggression and violence. Similarly, workers in buildings that contain plant life have been found to have better concentration and less anxiety on average than those working without plants.

Fuller’s team found that the restorative benefits of biodiversity increase with the species richness of urban green spaces. As a result, they conclude, suc­cess­ful man­age­ment of these­ spaces “should em­pha­size bi­o­log­i­cal com­plex­i­ty to en­hance hu­man well-be­ing in ad­di­tion to bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.