Sunday, March 31, 2013

Your brain on cities

Cities are exciting, crowded, busy - and have measurable effects on the brains of the people who live in them. City dwellers have higher rates of mental health problems and over-active lizard brains, according to recent research published in Nature. This doesn't seem too surprising given the level of stimulation and decreased personal space in a city.

More surprising is that living in the city changes the way people pay attention. Because city dwellers have so much more to pay attention to, their focus becomes diffused and it is harder for them to focus on one thing unless it is unusually engaging. Rural folk are better at focusing on a task, unless their brains are overloaded in ways that mimic city life; then they show the same diffused focus. As Eric Jaffe concludes in an article in The Atlantic Cities,
So a quick summary, for those readers on the verge of losing focus: the brains of people in remote places seem ready to focus on the task at hand, while the brains of their urban counterparts seem prepared to explore the ever-changing conditions of city life. Certainly explains why some country folk find the city overwhelming, and some city folk find the country a little dull. Nothing personal — strictly neural.
No wonder it is so disorienting going from Bozeman to Chicago, or vice-versa; it takes a bit for the brain to adjust.


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