Life in the Big City1

Green acres is the place to be.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide.
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

New York is where I’d rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

…The chores.
…The stores.
…Fresh air.
…Times Square

You are my wife.
Good bye, city life.
Green Acres we are there.

Green Acres TV Series Theme (1965-1971)

More people live in cities today than in rural areas. While the ability to attend a Major League Baseball game and national opera company debut in the same city — even on the same day — has its advantages, there is plenty of research that shows city life can be challenging.

In studying the city affects on the human brain, scientists have discovered city life can impair basic mental processes (like memory and attention). One study in 2008 by University of Michigan researchers found that even spending just a few minutes on a busy city street affects the ability to focus and alters self-control, leaving city residents mentally exhausted.[audio:|titles=Welcome To The Jungle]

“On a busy city street, it’s probably more adaptive to have a shorter attention span, ” says Sara Lazar, PhD, a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Laboratory for Neuroscientific Investigation of Meditation. “If you’re too fixated on something, you might miss a car coming around the corner and fail to jump out of the way. ”

The result of too much city stimulation may result in “attention fatigue”, defined as “a neurological symptom that occurs when our voluntary attention system, the part of the brain that allows us to concentrate in spite of distractions, becomes worn down.” Individuals with attention fatigue tend to experience heightened distraction, impatience, or forgetfulness. If severe, the same people may experience poor judgment and increased stress.

Researchers believe, however, that treating this city-wide epidemic may be simple. Spending brief periods (even as little as 20 minutes) in more natural surroundings can help the brain recover from attention fatigue.  The same logic applies to hospital rooms with a view, especially when patients overlooking trees and other serene settings recovered faster in certain studies.

Dr. Lazar uses neuroimaging techniques to study the changes in the brain after experiencing activities like meditation and yoga.  Dr. Lazar believes that individuals who meditate “develop denser, thicker networks of neurons in the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula of their brains. These areas govern attention and sensory processing.” She concludes: “If people are stressed about basic survival, they will have more cortisol and a smaller hippocampus, and thus potential difficulties with memory formation. Moving to a quieter place could help reduce stress, which in turn can reduce cortisol levels and create conditions conducive to neuroplasticity.”

Additional Resources: Harvard Medical School; Medical News Today

1 Comment

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