Saturday, June 25, 2011

City Life Could Change Your Brain for the Worse | Wired Science | Wired.com

I'm glad research is finding evidence that supports my impressions of city life. This research could have implications for autism, as well. There is significant evidence that autism rates are higher in some settings, but we don't know how correlations relate to causation or other factors. Simply finding more autistics in a region doesn't mean something in the region causes autism. It could be that similar people slowly congregate.

But, this study finds evidence that city life itself changes the brain. The implications are fairly important. Humans didn't live in cities of millions until recently. We did not evolve in groups much larger than a few thousand, and more often our social groups are under a thousand people. We're only emotionally wired to handle connections to 150 people or fewer. We deal with 1000 or more by connecting though our close connections. We connect beyond the 150, in other words, but we do so via networking.

City Life Could Change Your Brain for the Worse | Wired Science | Wired.com: "A study of German college students suggests that urbanite brains are more susceptible to stress, particularly social stress, than those of country dwellers. The findings don’t indicate which aspects of city life had changed the students’ brains, but provide a framework for future investigations.

“Whether people are exposed to noise, live near a park, have a big group of friends or not — you can do those experiments, and tease apart which parts of urban living are associated with these changes,” said Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, a psychiatrist at German’s Central Institute of Mental Health.

Meyer-Lindenberg’s findings, published June 23 in Nature, are a neurological investigation into the underpinnings of a disturbing social trend: As a rule, city life seems to generate mental illness.

Compared to their rural counterparts, city dwellers have higher levels of anxiety and mood disorders. The schizophrenia risk of people raised in cities is almost double. Literature on the effect is so thorough that researchers say it’s not just correlation, as might be expected if anxious people preferred to live in cities. Neither is it a result of heredity. It’s a cause-and-effect relationship between environment and mind."

Meyer-Lindenberg’s team repeated the study twice more with a total of 70 more students. Each time the same pattern emerged. The researchers then looked for links to age, education, income, marital and family status, mood and personality. But when those were taken into account, the pattern still remained.


Divergence from middle-of-the-range levels of amygdala activation in socially stressed test subjects. Nature

The larger the city in which a student lived, the more active their amygdala. The longer they’d lived in a city as a child, the more active their cingulate cortex. In other studies, the cingulate cortex has been described as
especially sensitive to early-life stress, with alterations linked to adult psychological problems.
City life does not agree with me, not in the least. I can't relax for a minute living in the Twin Cities. I hear the constant traffic, sirens, trains, trucks, busses, and other noises. I've written here several times about the sensory overload that is the city.

I don't know how any autistic lives in a huge metropolis without going insane. The Twin Cities aren't even that large and they are way too much for me. Cities are like rat mazes, dehumanizing and horrible places.

People pushing urban living in the name of sustainability don't seem to recognize that humans were not meant to live like this. Cities contradict our very natures. Becoming desensitized to the stimulation doesn't sound great to me. Eventually, people in cities seem to be desensitized to humans, as well. How is that a good thing?

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