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The Difference Between Urban Brains And Rural Brains In A Study About Urban Versus Rural Brains, Suburbia Is Left Out

A new study that confirms our cultural stereotypes about city and country dwellers raises more questions than it answers.


We all know the stereotypes of the high-strung urbanite versus the laid-back country dweller, but now there's scientific evidence for them. A new study published in Nature finds that people living in the city had a higher level of activity in the amygdala, the brain region that assesses threats and generates fear. The activity can be heightened or simply "out of kilter"; the latter can signal mental illnesses like schizophrenia, which has been proved to be more common in the city.

In other words, city folk are wired to experience stress in a more intense way than someone who was reared in a bucolic setting.


This may be obvious when comparing New Yorkers to residents of, say, Alpine, Wyoming. But I wonder where the very special neuroses of suburbia, which never fail to capture our collective imaginations, fit in. What about the pressure to conform in cookie cutter sprawl? How does the suburban brand of social isolation take its toll? How about the ambivalent way suburbanites feel about their quality of life? Given that half of Americans now live in the suburbs, these insights might be the most fascinating of all.

Unlike the study we posted on back in April about the difference between liberal and conservative brains, people can't choose or change where they grow up. And depending on their economic opportunities, they don't always have the option to move out of their hometowns. The Pew Research Center found that about four out of ten Americans still live where they were born. So does that mean that people who later move toward the city or country are naturally predisposed to a certain kind of brain activity? Or do these patterns develop as we change location? Either way, this study raises more questions than it answers.

photo (cc) by Flickr user alles-schlumpf

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