For many African Americans, urban life and living in a city is commonplace. We are well aware of the risks related to safety but, now, scientists have shown evidence of a new risk that causes reduced positive health outcomes for individuals living in urban areas compared to people living in non-urban areas — stress. The findings just were published this week in the online edition of the Journal Nature.
Researchers at McGill’s Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal and the University of Heidelberg in Germany used MRIs to study brain responses of healthy German students who were taking a math test under stressful conditions. This involved participants conducting time-pressured tasks as well as being verbally scolded by investigators via their headphones.
Results indicated that participants exposed to those stressful conditions had two areas of their brains known to be involved in processing emotions become more active. In particular, researchers noted that the subject’s amygdala was more active for participants who lived in cities, and the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, or pACC, was more active in those who had been raised in cities. A city was defined as having more than 100,000 inhabitants.
The lead author, Jens Pruessner of McGill, stated, “The findings contribute to our understanding of urban environmental risk for mental disorders and health in general.”
Past research documents that living in a city increases the risk of depression and anxiety and that schizophrenia rates are higher in people born and brought up in cities. This is important since the world is becoming more urbanized around the globe. According to the United Nations, nearly 70 percent of all people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. –torrance t. stephens, ph.d.