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Risk of mental illness in city dwellers increased significantly
City life causes an increased susceptibility to stress. In the past, numerous studies have found an increased occurrence of depression and anxiety disorders among the population in the metropolises. Now researchers at the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim have found that activity in two brain regions, which are responsible for processing stress and emotions, differs significantly between townspeople and rural residents.
Florian Lederbogen from the Mannheim Central Institute for Mental Health and colleagues report in the current issue of the journal "Nature" that people who live in a large city with more than 100,000 inhabitants are much more susceptible to social stress than people who live in the country. When examining the activity in the various areas of the brain during a stressful situation, the townspeople showed significantly higher activities in the almond kernel as well as in the region of the perigenual anterior cingulum (pACC) than rural residents, according to the result of the current study. Since both brain regions are responsible for processing emotions and stress, the study results also allow conclusions to be drawn about the susceptibility to stress of the urban population, explained Florian Lederbogen and colleagues.
Increased brain activity of city dwellers in the stress test In order to take a closer look at the increased susceptibility to stress of city dwellers, the team of psychiatrists and psychologists carried out the so-called Montreal Imaging Stress Test (“Mist” - Test), in which the brain activity of the study participants during a stressful situation was recorded with the help of a functional magnetic resonance tomograph (fMRI). The test subjects had to solve difficult arithmetic tasks under time pressure and were simultaneously exposed to critical comments from the scientists via headphones. As a result, brain activity increased in all test participants in the stress and emotion-processing regions of the almond kernel (amygdala) and the perigenual anterior cingulum (pACC). But for test participants who currently live in a city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, brain activity was significantly higher, especially in the almond kernel, than for the rural residents, Florian Lederbogen and colleagues report. This result was also confirmed in a subsequent check-up, the scientists continued. In addition to the changed brain activities, normal stress reactions such as high blood pressure and an increased release of the stress hormone cortisol were also observed.
Growing up in the city increases susceptibility to stress In addition to the significantly increased brain activity of the almond kernel in people who currently live in a large city, the researchers at the Mannheim Central Institute for Mental Health were also able to determine a long-term effect of city life. Florian Lederbogen and colleagues asked the study participants about their previous places of residence and then multiplied the number of inhabitants of the home town by the number of years spent there in order to develop an individual indicator for the city or country life of the test subjects. The higher the key figure, the more urban the past life of the study participants was, explained the scientists of the Mannheim Central Institute for Mental Health. When comparing the individual indicators with the brain activity of the test subjects, the researchers found that with an increasing value of the indicator, the activity in the area of the pACC increased significantly during the stress test. Since the region of the pACC makes a significant contribution to controlling the activity of the almond kernel and a good interaction of the two brain regions is crucial for the processing of stress and emotions, Florian Lederbogen and colleagues assume that in the changed spheres of activity or the poorer interaction Almond kernel and pACC are also due to the increased susceptibility of urban dwellers to stress. Earlier studies have already provided evidence of a connection between the disturbed interplay of the two brain areas, the almond kernel, and pACC with reduced psychological stability, explained Lederbogen and colleagues.
Further study of the stress processing of rural and urban residents Although the current research results suggest that "the further away the human being is from his natural biotope, the higher the price", the study by the Mannheim researchers does not provide clear scientific evidence for this Biopsychologist Peter Walschburger from the Free University of Berlin commented that the size of the place of residence directly influences stress processing, the latest article in the journal "Nature". The number of study participants is too small and the data refer exclusively to Germany, which makes international comparison significantly more difficult, explained Walschburger. In order to achieve reliable results, a long-term study with significantly more participants and taking into account different living conditions in the different cities is therefore necessary. Because the starting conditions are very different from city to city and Walschburger emphasized that he could hardly imagine that there would be no differences between the effects of living in the center of Mexico City and living in an eco-settlement on the outskirts of Freiburg. You also have to take into account whether someone lives voluntarily in a big city or whether their job or study requires it. "Such factors" should "be included urgently" in the context of further studies, emphasized biopsychologist Peter Walschburger.
Urban population generally more susceptible to mental illnesses Overall, the results of the researchers at the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim are particularly interesting with regard to the statements of older, more extensive studies, since these have already identified a significantly increased susceptibility of the urban population to mental illnesses. The current study by Florian Lederbogen and colleagues does not provide any clear scientific information on the effects of city life on the risk of mental illness. However, the increased activity found in the brain regions of the almond kernel and the pACC among urbanites offers a possible explanation for the increased psychological instability of the urban population that has already been demonstrated in previous studies. It is known that city dwellers are around 20 percent more likely to experience anxiety disorders and people who grew up in the city suffer from schizophrenia around twice as often as rural people, explained Peter Walschburger. However, there are other studies that, in some countries, show a lower suicide rate among the urban population than among the rural population, comment Daniel Kennedy and Ralph Adolphs from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena the current "Nature" article. Overall, however, the current study shows that growing up and living in the big city has a significant impact on the processing of social stress in the brain, according to Florian Lederbogen and colleagues. (fp)
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