Urbanites less focused
A study finds that city life lessens attention span.
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.
Researchers 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.
Photo: Jasper James/Getty Images
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