Thursday, September 15, 2011

Living in The City Drives You Mad, Literally

Urbanization is the most phenomenal socio-ecological change confronting our civilization.
Recent projections indicate that 69 % of humans will live in cities by 2050. This is hardly surprising. On average, across nations, people who live in cities are better educated, wealthier and generally enjoy high standards of living.

Recent studies also show that cities are the heartland of creative innovation, renewal and transformation.

Steve Jobs grew up in the western US conurbation. Galileo and Michelangelo lived in Renaissance Florence. Plato and Socrates both lived in fifth-century BC Athens, a city-state.

Clearly, the city must have some effect on our minds. Good and bad.

Previous studies have shown that living in the city has serious mental health effects. Mood and anxiety disorders are more common among city dwellers. More importantly, the incidence of schizophrenia is elevated in people born and raised in cities. The City drives you mad, literally.

A study published June 23 in the journal Nature by German researches revealed that city living was associated with increased amygdala (part of the brain associated with memory and emotional intelligence) activity, while urban upbringing affected the anterior cingulate cortex (the key region of amygdala regulation).

The study posits that urban effects on mental illness are causal and suggests that increased social evaluative threat, including social defeat and chronic social stress could be the specific factors affecting the brain.

The key question is how to integrate the understanding gained from neurosciences, social sciences into a public policy response to the challenges of urbanization.

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