A New York state of mind
Urban brains behave differently from rural ones
Jun 23rd 2011 | from the print edition
Shelley contemplates urban decay
“HELL is a city much like London,” opined Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1819. Modern academics agree. Last year Dutch researchers showed that city dwellers have a 21% higher risk of developing anxiety disorders than do their calmer rural countrymen, and a 39% higher risk of developing mood disorders. But exactly how the inner workings of the urban and rural minds cause this difference has remained obscure—until now. A study just published in Nature by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg and his colleagues has used a scanning technique called functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of city dwellers and country bumpkins when they are under stress.
In Dr Meyer-Lindenberg’s first experiment, participants lying with their heads in a scanner took maths tests that they were doomed to fail (the researchers had designed success rates to be just 25-40%). To make the experience still more humiliating, the team provided negative feedback through headphones, all the while checking participants for indications of stress, such as high blood pressure.