Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

Urban environment and brain function

Cities are exciting. There are the arts to stimulate the mind and countless opportunities for social interaction. Cities are also exhausting and frustrating places. Recent research suggests that the urban landscape contributes to significant impairment of mental functioning in several areas including memory, self-control, the ability to focus, and overall mood. We are more likely to be impulsive, have difficulty concentrating and be irritable in the city than we are in a natural environment with a variety of plant and animal life around us.

A major factor in this process seems to be the lack of a natural environment in urban areas. In fact, the negative impact of the urban landscape on our ability to process information and coordinate our responses to our surroundings is diminished by even small amounts of natural objects and open spaces such as trees along city streets and parks. The trend is even more pronounced when comparing a treeless urban area and an area with a large variety of vegetation types and a healthy ecosystem including a variety of animals as well.

Given the well known trend of higher religiosity among rural people, this research on the affects of natural surroundings on states of mind would seem to be a good candidate for extension to include the possible influences on religion. Perhaps religion is only likely to flourish in a natural environment where minds can be freed from the overwhelming tasks of navigating the city and allowed to contemplate spiritual things?

For more details see the original article, “How the city hurts your brain,” by Jonah Lehrer.

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