Having a love of nature depends on your genes, study explains

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The allure of nature for humans: is it ingrained in our DNA or shaped by our childhood experiences? Swedish scientists discovered it’s a combination of both, with your preference for green spaces actually depending on the genes you inherited from mom and dad. This has significant implications for how we design our urban spaces.

The rejuvenating effects of nature are well documented, especially in urban settings. City trees and green patches have consistently been shown to enhance the well-being of residents. So, why do we, as humans, gravitate towards nature? This innate affinity is called biophilia. Yet, the exact reasons for biophilia remain a subject of debate among experts.

Diving into this debate, researchers analyzed numerous studies focusing on both genetic factors and early life experiences. Their findings highlight that while some people innately possess a stronger connection to nature due to genetics, childhood experiences also play a pivotal role.

“We have been able to establish that many people have an unconscious positive experience of nature,” says Bengt Gunnarsson, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Gothenburg, in a university release. “But the biophilia hypothesis should be modified to link the variation in individuals’ relationships with nature to an interaction between heredity and environmental influence.”

Couple walking with young child
Photo by Jakob Owens on Pexels.com

It’s also crucial to acknowledge that nature doesn’t elicit uniform reactions. For instance, a Japanese study showed that while walking in a forest triggered positive emotions in 65 percent of participants, it implies that not everyone had a similarly positive reaction. Another study underscored that those with nature-rich childhoods exhibited stronger leanings towards natural environments over urban ones.

Further shedding light on the matter, Gunnarsson mentions a twin study revealing genetic factors influencing one’s affinity or aversion to nature. However, upbringing and environment also had a considerable impact on their sentiments towards nature.

Nature isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Some relish manicured parks, while others yearn for the raw wilderness. This diversity in preference is molded by both genetics and personal experiences.

“So it’s important that we don’t standardize nature when planning greenery in our towns and cities,” notes study co-author Marcus Hedblom, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “We shouldn’t replace wild greenery with a park and assume that it will be good for everyone.”

Gunnarsson underscored the importance of future research in discerning the intricate interplay between genetics and environment in shaping one’s bond with nature.

“There are probably quite a large number of people who do not have such positive feelings towards nature, partly due to hereditary factors,” concludes Gunnarsson. “Future studies that dig deeper into the interactions between hereditary and environmental factors are essential if we are to understand what shapes individuals’ relationships with nature. But we have to remember that we are all different, and take that into account when planning for different natural areas in towns and cities. Let people find their own favorite green spaces!”

The study is published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

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