Cities Stress the Brain, Nature Restores the Mind

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Philosophers, poets, and writers have long known the dangers of city life. Now scientists know why. Neuroscience writer extraordinaire Jonah Lehrer writes for the Boston Globe that the simple act of being in a city “impairs our basic mental processes.”

Human minds struggle to keep up with the mental over-stimulation that’s ubiquitous in most cities. This can lead to mental and emotional fatigue in city dwellers.

The solution, according to Lehrer, is to spend more time in nature. Forests and sunsets don’t require the same neurological effort as the busy concrete jungle of cities. Spending time in nature, having an apartment that overlooks green spaces, or even looking at photographs of natural settings have all been found to have neurological benefits.

“Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available, and could improve your cognitive functions at zero cost,” Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan wrote for Psychological Science. Spending time in nature has all these benefits, according to the study’s authors. The theory is called attention restoration theory, or ART, stating that mentally exhausted people can actually be rejuvenated by spending time in nature.

And if nature’s not readily available, you can try out the advice from Common Groundon beating “urban angst,” that Utne blogger Rachel Levitt pointed to.

(Thanks, MindHacks.)

Image by Eric Chan, licensed under Creative Commons.

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