Our love of the natural world is partially baked into our genes, a study carried out by researchers from the University of Queensland and the National University of Singapore suggests.

Using data collected by TwinsUK, the most detailed and extensive twin study ever carried out, the team compared the genetic heritability of two types of trait - how strongly a person feels connected to nature, and the amount of time they spend in nature – in more than 1,000 sets of twins.

They found that identical twins, who share almost all of their genes, were more similar to each other than fraternal twins, who share around half of their genes, in their appreciation of nature.

This genetic influence was present in between 34 per cent for frequency of garden visits and 48 per cent for public nature space visits, they say.

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“We were truly surprised by what we found,” said study co-author Prof Richard Fuller, of the University of Queensland. “This means there may be innate genetic differences among people’s psychological connection with natural environments and how they experience them. Our results help to explain why some people have a stronger desire than others to be in nature.”

Previous studies have shown that the environment in which people are raised and live in, be it urban or rural, influences how strongly they desire to be amongst nature or seek out outdoor experiences, with those in more rural areas having a closer affinity with nature.

However, this is the first study to suggest that genetics plays a role in how strongly we feel a connection to nature.

As more and more people living in urban areas are reporting lower levels of wellbeing, and are at a higher risk of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, the study highlights the importance of bringing people closer to nature, the researchers say.

“Spending a little time at home in the garden can be a great way to experience some nature, but this can’t always be achieved, especially for those in urban areas,” said lead author of the study Dr Chia-Chen Chang, of the National University of Singapore.

“Increasing accessibility to nature for urban residents through projects such as communal gardens will be hugely beneficial and will play an important part in improving people’s wellbeing overall.”


Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.