Love of nature is partially heritable, study of twins shows

Identical twins' nature experiences more similar than fraternal twins but local environment also key

Based on a press release by PLoS Biology

Singapore/Exeter/Brisbane/Leipzig. A person's appreciation of nature and their tendency to visit natural spaces are heritable characteristics. This is the result of a large-scale study of UK twins between the National University of Singapore, the University of Exeter, the University of Queensland, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). The study has now been published in the journal PLoS Biology.

In an attempt to demonstrate the genetic heritability of nature orientation and nature experiences, an international research team surveyed 1153 pairs of twins on how strongly a person feels connected to nature, and the amount of time one spends in nature. The participating twins were part of TwinsUK, the United Kingdom's largest adult twin registry, and the most clinically detailed twin study in the world. Researchers found that identical twins, who share almost 100 percent of their genes, were more similar to each other in these "nature-loving characteristics" compared to fraternal twins, who share around 50% of their genetic material.

They found that the heritability for these characteristics ranged from 34 percent for frequency of garden visits to 46 percent for nature orientation suggesting a moderate influence of genetics on how often people visit nature, and their emotional connection to nature.

Lead author of the study Dr Chia-Chen Chang from the National University of Singapore says: "We also found that environmental factors explained more than half of the differences between individuals, reinforcing previous findings that a person's environment is a key driver of their enjoyment and experiences of nature". The influence of environmental factors on how often people visit public nature spaces also increased with age.

"Therefore, it is important that we design cities to bring people closer to nature," says Dr Rachel Oh, a postdoctoral researcher at UFZ and iDiv. "This could be achieved through the provision of high-quality and easily accessible natural spaces. Efforts to increase people's experiences of nature will become increasingly important, as the impacts of a modern, urban lifestyle on mental health becomes clearer, some of which include a higher risk of psychiatric disorders."

The study builds upon past research which has looked at the relationship between a person's geographical circumstances (urban or rural) and their desire to seek out nature experiences.

This research was financed by the National Parks Board and the Ministry of National Development, Singapore to L. Roman Carrasco. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Urs Moesenfechtel

Original publication:

(Researchers with iDiv affiliation and iDiv alumni in bold).

Chang, C.-c., Cox, D. T .C., Fan, Q., Nghiem, T. P. L., Tan, C. L. Y., Oh, R .R. Y. et al. (2022): People's desire to be in nature and how they experience it are partially heritable, PLoS Biology. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001500

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