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Urbanites less focused

A study finds that city life lessens attention span.

By Britt Olson MSN Living Editor Jan 31, 2013 5:24PM

During your morning commute you navigate traffic, scan the day’s headlines at a newsstand, dodge fellow pedestrians and look for the closest Starbucks.
And while you’re acknowledging stimuli, your brain is computing and disregarding all the useless material, too.
Such daily urban stimulation may cause an overall decrease in focus, suggests a study to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Photo: Jasper James/Getty ImagesResearchers from the University of London’s Goldsmith College examined a very specific segment of Namibians: the Himba people. Himba are traditionally rural farmers. Some Himba have retained this way of life, while others have migrated to the city Opuwo, where their lives are largely westernized.  

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By comparing the attention spans of these two populations of Himba on designated tasks, researchers concluded that city life likely causes a cognitive load that favors “reduced attentional engagement.” Urbanites’ minds must compute more information, so they engage less devotedly with the specifics, in other words.

In the study, rural Himba were far better at tuning out distractions than their urban counterparts during an experiment where they were asked to identify arrows pointing in particular directions.

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To ascertain whether this phenomenon held across cultures, the researchers compared urban Himba brain patterns to Londoners’: they were remarkably similar.

While the researchers didn't conclude that city folk have inferior attention spans to country folk, they do report that, “the effect of cognitive load was indistinguishable from the effect of urbanization."

So it may be that life in the city isn’t faster, it’s just that your focus is in high demand.  

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Photo: Jasper James/Getty Images

10Comments
Feb 23, 2013 3:26AM
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I could never move back to the city.  My beagle is distracted enough although he is able to bark at a paper bag for 20 minutes straight.  Besides, where would he run?  Where are all the beautiful trails?  At least the cities are providing more dog parks which is great.
Feb 22, 2013 11:40PM
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I'm a born and bred Philly girl, now living in NJ.  I can tell you people in Philly are definitely not focused.  They walk right into you because they're so busy looking down at the small screen.  Some walk off train platforms.  It's a  miracle more aren't killed, but I'm sure that's coming.
Feb 22, 2013 5:25PM
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That explains the rise of the stupidity of the modern Demacratic Party.We call them Sulies, for Stupid Urban Liberals. We have long believed that people that live in a city to long suffer some form of brain damage. Now there is scientific research proving this phenomena.
Feb 22, 2013 4:25PM
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I grew up on the outskirts of the suburbs and have since transitioned to rural living.  It is far superior to city life, the quiet, the lack of crowds everywhere, the lower crime rate, lower prices, access to REALLY fresh produce, etc., can't be beat.  It is much easier to concentrate under these conditions.
Feb 22, 2013 3:27PM
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 I was like Taxas girl once and lived out in the country, commuting  to my city job. Wasting 90 min. - 2 hrs. driving every day, depending on traffic, plus the money I was spending on fuel and car upkeep, didn't seem like a smart choice to me. To each his own, I guess.
Feb 22, 2013 2:40PM
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I grew up in a large city, now I live out in the country and only travel into the city nearby for work. I refuse to live in cities now and prefer the peace of small town life, I call it my time to defrag my brain and keep things in perspective.
Feb 22, 2013 11:39AM
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I am an outdoors type and have always noted that city folks don't seem to be very smart. Maybe this is the reason. The only other possible reason it that it doesn't take as much brain power to survive when everything you need is at hand.
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