SINGAPORE — Parents pass on their love for nature to their kids genetically, suggests a new study. Genetics help determine how close people feel to the great outdoors and how often they visit green spaces, say scientists.
People’s views on the world are determined by a mixture of genetics and past experiences, commonly referred to as “nature versus nurture.” But how much influence genes have on daily decision making remains a mystery in many cases. Now, scientists have found genetic variations can shape people’s appreciation of nature, especially when they are young.
“This study provides the first evidence for a genetic component to both our predispositions towards nature and our tendency to visit natural spaces,” says study co-author Dr. Chia-chen Chang, from the National University of Singapore, in a statement. “Nature-oriented people may actively seek out nature even if it means travelling from their home, but diverse urban planning is needed to provide access to natural spaces – and the benefits they offer – for all.”
The researchers surveyed 1,153 pairs of twins from the TwinsUK registry about their feelings towards Mother Nature. They were asked to rate their familiarity and desire to spend time in nature, as well as how often they visited green spaces like public parks and private gardens.
Identical twins, also known as monozygotic, who share almost 100 percent of their genes, were more aligned in their views on nature. This compared to fraternal twins, or dizygotic, who only share around 50 percent of their genetic material.
A moderate influence of genetics over how people experience nature was observed by the researchers. More specifically, genetic variations explained 46 percent of the participants’ nature orientation and 34 percent of their garden visits, the researchers found.
Environmental factors also played an important part, explaining more than half of the differences between individuals. People living in urban environments tended to have fewer nature experiences, due to for example limited access to gardens. This underlines how important having access to green spaces is for people to enjoy and experience nature.
The influence of genetics, known as heritability, also declined with age, the researchers found. This may be because as people get older they experience a unique set of environmental conditions.
While spending time in nature has been found to boost people’s mental wellbeing, they experience and benefit from it in different ways.
“Spending time in nature links to better health and wellbeing,” says Chang. “A twin study shows that a person’s desire to be in nature and how often they experience it are influenced by both genes and personal experiences.”
The findings are published in the journal open-access journal PLOS Biology.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.