Living in an urban environment has definite benefits over a rural location. The city offers more job opportunities, better sanitation standards, more restaurants and more entertainment options than a rural environment. Despite the benefits of big city living, an urban setting has a higher rate of anxiety, schizophrenia and other mental disorders than rural environments than rural locations.
Though scientists and experts are aware of the higher risk of developing mental disorders in urban settings, the exact reasons for the high risk is not fully understood. Though several factors are still uncertain, scientists and doctors have discovered that part of the problem is the nature of an urban environment. People living in a large city are at a higher risk of developing disorders due to the high social stress associated with large numbers of people.
The urban environment requires meeting the daily demands of social stress that scientists call social evaluative stress. This type of stress comes from dealing with other people in a social environment and the trials associated with it. For example, fear of making mistakes that result in looking foolish are a social evaluative stress.
To test scientific hypothesis regarding the stress of social environments, German scientists asked volunteers to help determine their reaction to stressful situations. They were first asked questions about their current living conditions and the area where they grew up. For the test, scientists defined a city as having 100,000 people or more, a town as anything between 10,000 and 100,000 people and a rural environment as less than 10,000 people.
During the test, scientists hooked up an fMRI machine to the volunteers and then gave them a complicated test. Volunteers were asked to complete the math questions in a limited amount of time. The questions were generated with the idea that no volunteer would complete more than 40 percent correctly.
While volunteers worked on the test, the scientists gave negative feedback such as telling them that they were performing poorly. As a result, volunteers became stressed and worried while working on the test.
Once stressed, scientists watched heart rate, breathing and hormone levels in the body. According to the findings of the study, city dwellers experienced the highest stress rate. People from towns were less stressed than city folks and more stressed than those from rural environments. The volunteers from the rural setting experienced the least amount of stress.
To determine the accuracy of the test as related to social stress, scientists repeated the experiment without the fMRI. Instead, they tested the memory of volunteers after the test. The scientists found that without feedback the volunteers had no noticeable difference between urban and rural environments.
Scientists concluded that since the effects of stress on the amygdala in the brain on those from an urban environment are more pronounced, it is a likely contributor to the development of mental disorders.
While studies about the relationship between aspects like pollution, noise or other factors of city living are not yet conclusive, social stress in the city environment is a possible contributing factor to mental illness.
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