Does Urban Living Affect Your Brain?

Does city living affect how your brain functions and reacts to stressful situations? A new study shows that city dwellers are more sensitive to stress and more likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders than their rural brethren. City dwellers’ brains react differently, so it’s not just a personal difference, it’s a biological one.

At a German university, three separate studies were done; all of them resulted in similar findings. The first examined 32 students from both urban and rural backgrounds (for the case of this study urban was defined as a city with more than 100,000 inhabitant or a town with more than 10,000 inhabitants) as they solved arithmetic problems while being pressured negatively by the examiners through headphones; the second looked at 47 students from both urban and rural backgrounds who were asked to solve similar problems while being criticized through a video monitor; finally 37 individuals with both urban and rural backgrounds were tested on their memory and matching ability – no outside pressure. In each experiment, the participants underwent an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) examining how their brains responded to stress.

The study found that those with urban backgrounds had higher levels of activity in the amygdala, which is the part that is responsible for processing of emotions. Also noted was that those who grew up in the city had lower coordination between the amygdala and the cingulate cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for producing emotional responses to physical sensations of pain. Lower coordination is generally found in individuals who suffer from psychiatric disorders. Lastly, city folk were more sensitive to stressful situations, meaning they got more agitated and flustered during these experiments.

The study does garner interest into learning more about the social pressures of city living as by 2025 it is speculated that 69 percent of society will live in cities. Examining the problem before it gets worse could help the mental stability millions of people. The study does recognize that only focuses on students in Germany where the line between rural and urban living is not very distinct.

City life can be hard with all the hustle and bustle and can even add to depression. If you live within the walls of a concrete jungle and find yourself snapping at everyone you meet, get yourself outside for a walk. Being outdoors and participating in “green exercise” can do wonders for your brain!

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