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Study: City life can drive you crazy

nyc062511_optUrban dwellers at higher risk for anxiety, mood disorders and schizophrenia

BY PAM LOBLEY
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
NOW THAT’S FUNNY

This is your brain. This is your brain on the city: more stressed, more active, more responsive to anxiety triggers.

A new study from researchers at University of Heidelberg and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University, and reported on in the journal Nature, used functional MRIs to watch how the brain reacts under stress. In particular, they compared the brains of people living in the cities, and raised in cities, to more rural dwellers to see how urban life affected the brain’s activity.

The subjects were hooked up to the fMRIs and given difficult math problems to solve, either under time pressure or while the researchers criticized their performance. (Trash-talking researchers? Is there a scientific method to that?)

Subjects who were city dwellers had noticeably accelerated activity in the amygdala, the brain region that regulates emotions such as anxiety and fear. In addition, people who spent the first 15 years of their lives in a city showed marked increase in another region of the brain which is a global processor of stress, the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex.

I hate that when that happens.

Jens Preussner, a researcher at Montreal's Douglas Mental Health University, said that people who live in cities are at higher risk for anxiety, mood disorders and schizophrenia. City life seems to put more stress on the brain than other lifestyles. Really? Have they spent any time on Route 80 in a downpour?

The general attitude is that city dwellers negotiate more stress on a daily basis because of crowding, housing types, pollution, noise and stench. But I live in a “quiet” New Jersey town and many people here look stressed to me. They’re cutting me off in traffic on a little street that goes to the town pool (late for adult swim?), they’re in Shoprite talking on the phone and peeling their toddler of the shopping cart, they’re shouting out their front door to me to pick up after my dog. (I always do). People need to chill out.

In the test, activation of the amygdala increased in step with the population density of participants' home towns: from rural areas to small cities to large urban settings, which seems to suggest that it’s not the actual urban setting that’s the problem, it’s other people and their behaviors that are increasing the stress. Well, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation. Maybe that’s why we’re all so anxious.



 
Comments (2)
2 Tuesday, 24 April 2012 20:44
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1 Sunday, 03 July 2011 08:31
Dianna
I was born and raised at the Jersey Shore. When I was living there, I felt anxious and depressed all the time.

Since I moved to Jersey City, I feel better mentally.

MY POINT: Living anywhere in NJ can make you crazy. It all depends on your ability to deal with the stresses of life and what kind of family and support system you have.

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