Study: City living isn’t easy. And sociologists are hypocrites

SOURCE: C. B. PEDERSEN & P. B. MORTENSEN ARCH. GEN. PSYCHIATRY 58, 1039–1046 (2001

There’s a thought-provoking article on Nature.com about city living and risk of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is twice as common in those who are city-born and raised as in those from the countryside, and the bigger the city, the higher the risk (see graph above). So there’s a study out that is looking at how city life might increase the risk of mental illness.

According to a group led by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg’s Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, their functional brain imaging showed that specific brain structures in people from the city and the countryside respond differently to social stress.

When Meyer-Lindenberg stimulated the study subjects’ brains through a simple study of telling them they were performing below average while taking an arithmetic test, the amygdala, which processes emotion, was activated only in people currently living in a city. And the cingulate cortex, which helps to regulate the amygdala and processes negative emotions, responded more strongly in those brought up in cities than in those who grew up in towns or rural areas. The initial experiment showed such clear associations that Meyer-Lindenberg didn’t think anyone would believe them. So he did a similar experiment on another 23 subjects, this time adding visual feedback that allowed participants to see the investigators’ frowns. He found the same sturdy associations.

Meyer-Lindenberg wants to expand this study by looking at how other risk factors identified by social scientists — such as being an immigrant — affect stress processing. “We will use tools from social scientists to help us quantify things like perceived discrimination, social support networks, or stigma,” he says. But according to him, his social-science colleagues (e.g. sociologists) aren’t all that interested.

The study is definitely interesting, but what I found most disturbing from this article is the lack of interest from sociologists regarding this study. As a ‘junior sociologist’, it bothers me that the very people who claim to care about inequalities in society don’t necessarily want to find ways to rectify such problems.  Apparently, anything having to do with finding practical solutions isn’t of interest to these social scientists because that would mean that there’s less social problems to bark about. It’s like sociologists don’t really have any inclination to ‘make the world a better place’; they only complain and feign a stance that makes them look feel like they’re better than everyone else. Maybe all they actually care about is getting published in their own journals and patting themselves on the back.

I think this rant can go on and on, but I’m going to take a break from it for now.

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One Comment to “Study: City living isn’t easy. And sociologists are hypocrites”

  1. Health promotion worker here (in the field of HIV rather than mental health). My sense is that sociologists are really well-trained in asking the question but not trained much at all in crafting responses to the problems they identify. I’m not sure how you’d craft a response to this finding — move everyone out to quiet country towns? — although it does square quite nicely with another finding that ‘silent mind’ forms of meditation are efficacious against anxiety and depression, and that kind of meditation is easy to teach. (ps I’m @onekind!)

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