A wise man once sang:
City's just a jungle, more games to playHaving spent my formative years in West Virginia, I feel that way an awful lot. I can't imagine what I'd feel like if I lived in a really big city. I'm lucky enough to live on an edge of suburbia that, if you squint your eyes, looks kind of like the country, and from time to time I'm able to take relatively restorative country walks. Based on a recent study, that's probably a good thing:
Trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin' in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down
Thoreau would have liked this study: interacting with nature (at least when compared to a hectic urban landscape) dramatically improves improve cognitive function. In particular, being in natural settings restores our ability to exercise directed attention and working memory, which are crucial mental talents. The basic idea is that nature, unlike a city, is filled with inherently interesting stimuli (like a sunset, or an unusual bird) that trigger our involuntary attention, but in a modest fashion. Because you can't help but stop and notice the reddish orange twilight sky - paying attention to the sunset doesn't take any extra work or cognitive control - our attentional circuits are able to refresh themselves. A walk in the woods is like a vacation for the prefrontal cortex.The Internet is a wonderful thing that, with any luck, will one day enable me to write about an urban-based sport from a pastoral setting.
Strolling in a city, however, forces the brain to constantly remain vigilant, as we avoid obstacles (moving cars), ignore irrelevant stimuli (that puppy in the window) and try not to get lost. The end result is that city walks are less restorative (at least for the prefrontal cortex) than strolls amid the serenity of nature.
(link via Sullivan)