The City is Eating Your Brain

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Well, ‘eating your brain’ might be a little be over-the-top, but basically it’s true: the city is apparently bad for you mind. The Boston Globe reports that studies show that living/ working/ shopping/ just being in the city can affect everything from your memory to your mood – essentially by overstimulating your brain. Damn.

Consider everything your brain has to keep track of as you walk down a busy thoroughfare like Newbury Street. There are the crowded sidewalks full of distracted pedestrians who have to be avoided; the hazardous crosswalks that require the brain to monitor the flow of traffic. (The brain is a wary machine, always looking out for potential threats.) There’s the confusing urban grid, which forces people to think continually about where they’re going and how to get there.

The reason such seemingly trivial mental tasks leave us depleted is that they exploit one of the crucial weak spots of the brain. A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren’t distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception — we are telling the mind what to pay attention to — takes energy and effort. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power.

Natural settings, in contrast, don’t require the same amount of cognitive effort. This idea is known as attention restoration theory, or ART, and it was first developed by Stephen Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. While it’s long been known that human attention is a scarce resource — focusing in the morning makes it harder to focus in the afternoon — Kaplan hypothesized that immersion in nature might have a restorative effect.

Solution? Well, I’d suggest reading the rest of the article – but better urban design, with better green spaces might be a start. Until then, if you live in the city you have a great new excuse for being forgetful – put it to good use.
.:How the city hurts your brain->via Boston.com

Posted: January 7th, 2009
at 2:40pm by orangemenace


Categories: architecture,my ninja, please,urban/master planning,news

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