Cities on the Brain

Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide has received quite a bit of attention recently, and his website is chock full of other good reads.

I particularly enjoyed a recent piece in the Boston Globe on how cities dull our brain while also being fertile areas for innovation. Here’s an excerpt:

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

“The mind is a limited machine,”says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. “And we’re beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations.”

The piece goes on to explain that some greenery, or trips to nature, help cognitive function. Without it, city dwellers are less able to cope and take advantage of all the ideas around them.

One argument is that this sort of explains the enduring interest in landscape paintings and images.

> Read the whole thing at How the City Hurts the Brain.
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