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

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016 Jul;55(7):591-601. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2016.05.002. Epub 2016 May 12.


Objective: Neighborhood greenspace improves mental health of urban-dwelling populations, but its putative neurobehavioral benefits in adolescents remain unclear. We conducted a prospective study on urban-dwelling adolescents to examine the association between greenspace in residential neighborhood and aggressive behaviors.

Method: Participants (n = 1,287) of the Risk Factors for Antisocial Behavior Study, a multi-ethnic cohort of twins and triplets born in 1990 to 1995 and living in Southern California, were examined in 2000 to 2012 (aged 9-18 years) with repeated assessments of their aggressive behaviors by the parent-reported Child Behavior Checklist. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from satellite imagery was used as a proxy for residential neighborhood greenspace aggregated over various spatiotemporal scales before each assessment. Multilevel mixed-effects models were used to estimate the effects of greenspace on aggressive behaviors, adjusting for within-family/within-individual correlations and other potential confounders.

Results: 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. The benefit of increasing vegetation over the range (∼0.12 in NDVI) commonly seen in urban environments was equivalent to approximately 2 to 2.5 years of behavioral maturation. Sociodemographic factors (e.g., age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status) and neighborhood quality did not confound or modify these associations, and the benefits remained after accounting for temperature.

Conclusion: Our novel findings support the benefits of neighborhood greenspace in reducing aggressive behaviors of urban-dwelling adolescents. Community-based interventions are needed to determine the efficacy of greenspace as a preemptive strategy to reduce aggressive behaviors in urban environments.

Keywords: adolescents; aggression; environment; epidemiology; greenspace.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Aggression*
  • California
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parks, Recreational / statistics & numerical data*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Urban Population*