City Life Changes How Our Brains Deal With Distractions
New evidence on the mental exhaustion of urban living.
City life requires a lot of attention. Navigating a busy sidewalk while processing loud storefronts and avoiding rogue pigeons may feel like second-nature at times, but it's actually quite a bit of work for the human brain. Psychologists do know that quick walks through the park can restore our focus, but they're still getting a handle on just what urbanization means for human cognition.
A new series of behavioral studies offers some of the richest evidence to date on the mental exhaustion of urban living. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, a group of British psychologists reports that people who live in cities show diminished powers of general attention compared to people from remote areas. With so much going on around them, urbanites don't pay much attention to surroundings unless they're highly engaging.
Instead, as the researchers put it, city dwellers have developed a form of attention that puts priority on "the search for potential dangers or new opportunities":
While reduced attentional engagement may be advantageous in high-demanding urban scenarios, it comes at the cost of a generally reduced level of attentional selectivity.
Read more at The Atlantic Cities.