Frances E. Kuo, Director



Feature Articles


Trees, Green Space, and Human Well-being

The Power of Trees


ADHD: Nature Therapy Helps Kids

Research Suggests a Green Approach to Treating ADHD

Links to other coverage at other sites

A 'Dose of Nature' for Attention Problems (New York Times)

Paris Parks (National Geographic)

Outdoor Time Calms Hyper Kids (Prevention)

Annapolis Goes Green (What's Up?  Annapolis)

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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"Trees, Green Space, and Human Well-being"

By Rob Kanter.  Environmental Almanac radio show.  Thursday, July 07, 2005


If you think of trees and green space as amenities—things people like, but which they can live well without—researchers with the Human-Environment Research Lab at the University of Illinois would like you to think again. A group that includes both psychologists and environmental planners, they’ve been studying how people’s well-being is affected by the presence or absence of nature in their immediate surroundings for more than a decade.

In their most recent study, conducted on a nationwide scale, psychologists Andrea Taylor and Frances Kuo have found that children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD, experienced a significant reduction in symptoms after they participated in activities in green settings. Whatever the activity—whether it was playing basketball or reading a book—the degree of relief from ADHD symptoms was tied to the greenness of the setting in which it took place, with relatively green settings like tree-lined streets, backyards and parks trumping the indoors or outdoor places that lacked greenery.

The potential use of activity in green places as a treatment for symptoms of ADHD should come as welcome news for those concerned with the some 2 million school-aged children in the U.S. who live with this neurological disorder. Whether a “dose of green” is used in conjunction with or in place of other therapies, it costs nothing and it comes without the side effects of the drugs most commonly used to treat ADHD.

Taylor and Kuo’s findings about the benefits of trees and greenery for the alleviation of ADHD symptoms serve as an extension of previous research by the Human-Environment Research Lab on the role of green spaces in human well-being.

Working primarily in Chicago’s public housing neighborhoods, Lab researchers have compared life in housing units that are identical except for the amount of trees and greenspace around them. There they have found that, all else being equal, trees and greenspace make life better in some very important and measurable ways.

In another study that focused on the connection between greenery and attention, for example, researchers found that inner-city girls who had green views from their windows at home possessed a greater degree of self-discipline than girls who did not. On average, according to the study, the greener a girl’s view from home the better she concentrates, the less she acts impulsively and the longer she can delay gratification. These capacities equip girls to behave in ways that foster success both in school and later life.

Interestingly, this study found that the benefits of a green view from home did not extend to boys, perhaps, the authors speculated, because boys tend to play farther from home than girls.

Other studies conducted by the Human-Environment Research Lab suggest that residents of housing with trees and green space immediately outside experience a host of further benefits: a greater sense of community, a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.

There is a cumulative message in all of this. As a society, we need to recognize that trees and greenspace are not luxuries, but necessary components of healthy human habitat.