The Boston Globe has an interesting article on how we interact with urban environments and discusses research suggesting that contact with nature has significant cognitive benefits.
It’s a fascinating article that touches on studies that have found a range of benefits for having contact with a natural environment:
Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard…
City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. Kuo and her colleagues found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression.
It does, however, contain one misreading that suggests that urban environments blunt our mental sharpness, based on a recent study led by psychologist Marc Berman.
The study actually found that a walk in an urban environment had no significant effect on our mental abilities, although a walk in a natural environment improved them.
Each of these changes was measured relative to an initial assessment conducted indoors and the same pattern emerged when participants just viewed pictures or natural or urban environments.
As far as I know, there is no evidence that urban environments have a negative impact on our cognitive abilities. Comment or get in touch if you know otherwise.
However, we do know that living in an urban environment is one of the most reliable and important environmental risk factors for the development of schizophrenia.
It’s not clear exactly what it is about urban living that raises the risk, although there’s a good commentary by psychiatrist Jim van Os that discusses some of the current explanations.