But cities can also be bad for your brain. Undiluted city life is not only exhausting, it also dulls our thinking and contributes to what psychologists call ‘cognitive deficits’. Marc Berman, a psychologist at University of Michigan, measured the negative effects of a short walk down a busy street, where we have to deal with busy pavements and malls, traffic, flashing lights, conversations on cell phones, advertisements and many distractions – all inputs that consume much of the mind’s processing power. Berman got students to take a walk, either through city streets or stroll through an arboretum and then do psychological tests. Students who walked through the city streets were in a worse mood and got significantly lower scores on a test of attention and working memory. Just being in an urban environment can impair our basic mental processes.
Other negative influences of urban life on the brain relate to self-control. We are constantly assaulted with temptations on the high streets of cities. Resisting these temptations requires us to flex the part of the brain that is also responsible for directed attention, already hard-worked by other city distractions. The result is that we are less able to exert self-control, which means we’re more likely to spend on things we don’t really need, with all its attendant misgivings.
Conversely, natural settings which are full of things that capture our attention – birds, trees, colours, movement – don’t require so much cognitive effort and do so without negative emotional responses. This is known as attention restoration theory – or ART, which was first developed by Stephen Kaplan of the University of Michigan.
Studies have found that children with attention deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings where they able to focus and are less likely to have behavioural problems.
They key, then, is to balance the buzz of the city with the calm of the country and enjoy a beneficial dose of nature that will boost your ability to cope with the stresses of city life.
Take a look at the wonderful selection of places you will find on this website - country lodges and houses, game lodges, resorts, self-catering establishments and camping and caravanning- you will find your perfect place to reboot your brain.
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