2nd Apr 2013

The Down Side of City Living




ANDREAS MEYER LINDENBERG – Director of the Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim Germany.


Mounting evidence shows how city living can harm our mental health.


More than half the world’s population live in cities and the prediction is that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2050. It is estimated that 10 million people move into cities every year.


Lindenberg conducted research of 32 German students in 2011 using fMRI scans. The scans revealed that specific stress circuits in the brain were heightened due to city living.



·      City dwellers had elevated heart rates, blood pressure and general stress levels.

·      People felt stressed by city lifestyle.

·      People from the most urban areas had the most engaged amygdala’s.

·      Immigrants are most stressed due to a sense of isolation.

·      Students from rural areas showed the least brain activity.

·      Students from small towns displayed moderate stress levels.

·      City dwellers brain’s displayed stress levels that were in overdrive.

Study was repeated with 70 other students and the same results were found.


The same type of hyperactivity discovered in these scans was observed in people who suffer anxiety and depression.




Why does city living take such an emotional toll on people? City life inclines the brain towards mental illness for a host of factors but some of the more prominent reasons are

·      Noise

·      Pollution

·      Lack of green space

·      Social pressure

·      Competition

·      Cost of living

·      Weak social networks


Social stress is thought to be the most harmful. This highlights the need for close family and friends. Evidence shows that the larger a persons circle of friends and family the less stress they experience. Lisa Feldman Barrett from Massachusetts USA found that VASOPRESSIN (hormone) is released during times of bonding and reduces activity in the cingulate cortex.




·      Children born and raised in cities are three times more likely to develop an emotional disorder than those growing up in a    rural setting.

·      People raised in cities are more likely to suffer from SCHIZOPHRENIA.



There is an area of the brain called the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC) which protects the amygdala from overactivity. City living can present a danger of chronic over stimulation of the pACC. Over time the pACC is unable to assist the overactivity of the amygdala. Evidence shows that the longer a person lives in a city the less communication occurs between the pACC and the amygdala.


Chronic overstimulation of the amygdala can lead to violent behaviour. Is it any wonder large cities throughout the world suffer from high levels of violent behaviour?


Article from Scientific Americam Mind, March/April 2013, P58