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Urban life affects the human brain, says study


Stress of growing up and living in the city activates specific areas related to the processing of emotions

by Alessandro Greco

Urban life affects the human brain, says study. 44730.jpegIncreasingly, the world's population lives in urban centers. Currently over 50% of the population live in cities, and in 2050 this number is expected to reach close to 70%, according to the United Nations (UN).

Growing up and living in cities affect specific areas of the brain

A study published on Wednesday (22nd) shows that urban life affects the brain, showing the relationship between the activation of two regions of the brain and the fact that people have grown up or live in cities. "Basically the brain activity during stress is linked to urbanity [the fact of living in the city]," said Andreas Meyer-iG Linderberg, University of Heidelberg, Germany, lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature.

Previous studies have shown that the mental health of people is negatively affected by urban life. Problems related to anxiety, for example, are more prevalent in people living in cities and the incidence of schizophrenia is higher in people born and raised in urban areas, but no one had yet attempted to measure the neural processes behind them.

Meyer-Linderberg took exactly this direction: collect data from the brain's reaction to stress situations. Together with a group of researchers, he analyzed what was taking place with the brain of German students while they performed mathematical tests and were receiving positive or negative feedback.

When being subjected to stress situations (negative feedback), the brains of young men who had grown up in cities or those live in urban centers was more active than those who grew up or lived in rural areas. In particular, the difference was in two areas related to the processing of emotions, the amigdala (for those who grew up in cities) and anterior cingulate cortex (in the case of those who dwell in them). In other words: to grow and live in urban areas affects how neurons process stress.

The discovery was made based on images produced by functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique of visualization of brain activity in real time. The next step, according to Ralph Adolphs, a neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology, USA, is to do a larger study that can measure more variables and try to show a causal relationship between brain activity and more specific aspects of city life. "These studies could, for example measure the [...] frequency of encounters with strangers, population density, amount of space and type of housing," he said in an article accompanying the research.

Translated from the Portuguese version by:

Lisa Karpova



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