Posted by: soupysays | January 11, 2009

City Slows Your Brain

How the City Hurts Your Brain

This paragraph struck a cord with me.

The reason such seemingly trivial mental tasks leave us depleted is that they exploit one of the crucial weak spots of the brain. A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren’t distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception — we are telling the mind what to pay attention to — takes energy and effort. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power.

I have felt my brain getting overwhelmed like this a few times in the last few years. I knew that a lot was happening but everything seemed to wash over me a bit slower than it should.

  • When I first started my Peace Corps service, after living in my 35,000 person town for a few months, I took a trip to the capital, a city of a million people for official business. On the cab ride from the airport, as the city slowly became bigger and more complex, I felt my brain picking up weird bits of pieces of my surroundings – a person waiting for a bus or a car turning. However, I couldn’t process the whole picture until the end of my ride. I never felt that again when I came into the big city.
  • Every time I went to a grocery store during my Peace Corps vacations to China and US. I couldn’t simply take it all in. I would focus on pieces that would jump out at me. OMG SYRUP!
  • Times Square – September. Lights. Noise. People. What?
  • Las Vegas Airport – September. Lights. Noise. People. What?

Now, the article says that the sensation happens to your brain whenever you are in a city. However, after the quiet vastness of Mongolia, my brain couldn’t handle these intense city situations until some extra resources were called to handle the extra strain.

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