Are Cities Driving Us Crazy?

Scientists are studying whether the stresses of living in urban environments increases the risks of developing mental health disorders. Global urbanization is making the question an urgent one, writes Alison Abbott.
October 12, 2012, 9am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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While anecdotal evidence of the mental health impacts of noisy neighbors, crowded streets, and higher crime rates associated with urban living may be evident, the impact of such stresses on the brain have not been rigorously tested. "Now," reports Abbott, "a few scientists are tackling the question head on, using functional brain imaging and digital monitoring to see how people living in cities and rural areas differ in the way that their brains process stressful situations."

"'Yes, city-stress is a big, messy concept, but I believed it should be possible to at least see if brains of city-dwellers looked somehow different,' says Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, director of the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany. "And if scientists can work out what aspects of the city are the most stressful," says Abbott, "the findings might even help to improve the design of urban areas."

"'Everyone wants the city to be beautiful but no-one knows what that means,' says Meyer-Lindenberg. Wider streets? Taller buildings? More trees? 'Architects theorize a lot, but this type of project could deliver a scientific basis for a city code.'"

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Published on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 in Nature
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