Nonsense About The City

MLewyn's picture

As I was reviewing the Planetizen web page, I noticed a bizarre headline: "Are Cities Driving Us Crazy?" I then clicked the link, finding a story in Nature magazine: "Stress and the City".  The article suggests that the stress of city life is a "breeding ground for psychosis."

And the evidence for this is, um, um... well, nothing.  The article begins with a study stating that schizophrenia had increased in one London neighborhood between 1965 and 1997- one neighborhood in just one city, hardly proof of anything about city life generally.

If the neighborhood, Camberwell, had urbanized between 1965 and 1997, this fact might provide just a tiny bit of evidence for the article's claim.  But in fact Camberwell is one of London's venerable urban neighborhoods.  It follows that if Camberwell had become more stressful, this shows only that one urban neighborhood had become more stressful, not that urban life is always stressful.

The article also claims that in Germany, the number of sick days taken for psychiatric ailments doubled between 2000 and 2010.  Since not everyone in Germany lives in cities, this fact is simply irrelevant to the article's claim.

Finally, the article cites a study with only 55 volunteers, in which volunteers were given arithmetic problems and constantly given negative social feedback.  Urban residents apparently were more unhappy with the results.  The Nature story does not tell us how many of the 55 were urbanites; however, it seems to me common sense that any study with less than 55 people has little probative value, just as an opinion poll with a few dozen respondents would be worthless.  Furthermore, saying that "city residents don't like to be insulted" (the apparent result of the 55-person study) is quite different from saying "city residents are psychotic. "

On the other hand, maybe the article is right.  I live in New York City, and certainly had negative brain activity after reading this article.  

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