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See Inside November/December 2011

City Living Can Heighten Social Stress

Urban dwellers are more likely to have overactive emotional centers in the brain



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In spite of the mind-expanding perks of city life, urban living is known to increase the chances of developing mental disorders such as schizophrenia. This link could be caused by a heightened response in the brain to social stress, according to a study published in Nature in June. Researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany studied brain scans of healthy students as they took a mathematics test under a barrage of disapproving feedback from the experimenter. This stressful situation revealed higher activity in the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex—regions involved in regulating emotions and stress—in urban students as compared with rural ones, with small-town folk falling in between. The difference may reflect city dwellers’ extra sensitivity to social stress, which could contribute to mental illness in people so predisposed by their genes.

This article was originally published with the title "The Urban Brain."

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