There was recently an article on Boston.com about the effects of city life on the human brain. Turns out, fast-paced, overcrowded, over-stimulating city life literally hurts the brain.
Having lived in NYC for way too long, I whole-heartedly agree.
Scientists have discovered that just “being in an urban environment, impairs our basic mental processes”. After spending a few minutes on a busy city street, the brain’s capacity to hold things in memory is greatly reduced. It also suffers from reduced self-control. “This new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.”
By constantly having to prevent ourselves from being distracted by irrelevant things, like other peoples’ cell phone conversations or that guy with a parrot on his shoulder, who’s riding around on a banana seat bicycle with a big boom box, blaring Helen Reddy songs (a true event), we use up a lot of our brain's computing power.
Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, tracked the walking paths of undergraduate students, via GPS. He found that the students, who had walked around the city, were in a worse mood and scored much lower on attention and memory tests, than students who walked through more park-like settings.
Berman discovered that even quickly looking at a photo of an urban scene had similar effects.
He believes a major contributing factor is a lack of nature. Nature has been proven to be extremely beneficial to the brain. Research has shown that hospital patients, who have a view of trees, recover more quickly, than those who don’t and children with ADD have fewer symptoms, when they are in nature-rich settings.
I love this video. It’s time lapse photography of one year in the life of a patch of trees- reduced into 40 seconds. (So NYC of me, to try to cram a year’s worth of relaxing into 40 seconds.)
Luckily for me, at the end of the month, I’ll be moving to Brooklyn, where I can see trees from both my living room and bedroom. I’m hoping too feel a lot less scattered and dull in the head.
Based on these findings, if you’re a city dweller, looks like you might want to bring back that babbling brook screensaver and maybe buy a small tree-like houseplant. If you put it up on the window ledge, then sit on the floor, from your worm’s-eye view, it’ll look like a tall tree and maybe you can turn your faucet on a little, so it sounds like a running stream.
These are my suggestions, not theirs. Just in case you were thinking these were the lamest scientists ever.