Environmental Determinants of Aggression in Adolescents: Role of Urban Neighborhood Greenspace

5.09.2016 11:46:00




According to the World Health Organization, violence is one of the leading causes of death among 15- to 44-year-olds and is a major global public issue worldwide. High rates of crime and violence prevail in urban areas, and urban residence is a well-documented risk factor for various mental illnesses.


Aggression during childhood is a strong indicator of developmental processes gone awry and manifests into more serious adverse behaviors such as violence and crime. Aggressive behavior is also a key precursor to many mental illnesses, including antisocial personality disorder. Although genetic factors are important causes of aggressive behaviors, environment also accounts for 50% of its total variance. Previous studies in urban-dwelling populations have primarily focused on social environmental determinants, but whether and how the physical characteristics of urban environments affect aggressive behaviors are not well understood. Current study is a prospective study on urban-dwelling adolescents to examine the association between greenspace in residential neighborhood and aggressive behaviors. Participants (n = 1,287) of the Risk Factors for Antisocial Behavior Study, who were born in 1990 to 1995, and living in Southern California, were examined for their aggressive behaviors. Satellite imagery was used as a proxy for residential neighborhood greenspace. Both short-term (1- to 6-month) and long-term (1- to 3-year) exposures to greenspace within 1,000 meters surrounding residences were associated with reduced aggressive behaviors.


Findings support the benefits of neighborhood greenspace in reducing aggressive behaviors of urban-dwelling adolescents. Although the underlying mechanism is not fully understood, several possible pathways that may explain the relationship between greenspace and aggressive behaviors are proposed. First many studies suggest that maternal stress and depression increase externalizing behavioral problems in children, and exposure to greenspace can improve mental health by reducing stress and lowering depression. Second, low self-esteem is related to aggressive behavior in children and adolescents, and intervention studies have found that greenspace improvements encourage participation in physical activity and that increased physical activity improves self-esteem. Third, recent epidemiological studies suggest that ambient air pollution and ambient noise could possible increase aggressive behavior, and that greenspace may reduce air pollution levels and act as a buffer for ambient noise. Future studies are needed to replicate the findings in other population settings and to identify mechanisms by which greenspaces may reduce aggressive behavior.



Reference: Younan, D., Tuvblad, C., Li, L., Wu, J., Lurmann, F., Franklin, M., Berhane, K., McConnell, R., Wu, A. H., Baker, L. A., & Chen, J. C. (2016). Environmental determinants of aggression in adolescents: Role of urban neighborhood greenspace. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55 (7), 591-601. 

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