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Brain Adaptivity to Stressors
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My grand-nephew is approaching his first birthday. He has been born into an urban environment, exposed to a high stress level from birth: noise, traffic, pollution, constant stimulation of eyes and ears. His parents are neo-rednecks, taking him (at his tender age!) to monster truck rallies and race track venues. They want him to be a real boy--no sissy stuff for him, by golly.

He will grow up, multitasking among smart phones, ipads, computers, rap music, loud engines, fast cars. His mother, even now, when visiting us late into the evening, keeps him awake (though his eyelids are heavy), jiggling him on her knee, forcing him into interaction with the adults and other children.

I hope he will be bright enough to handle all the input, noise, conversation, constant demands. It must be terribly stressful for children of limited ability to grow up amidst the intensity of the information age. And the dirt and noise and dangers of the city.

I can understand the flight to the suburbs, the search for a semi-rural environment. It's a self-selecting population, a response to individual preferences for a quieter environment, a greener life, a slower pace--or at least a part-time resemblance thereto, after work on the patio.

These living patterns lead to changes in the brain, and I would imagine those changes would be most profound upon the plasticity of the infant brain. (I keep wondering what it would be like to have been raised constantly jiggled awake to interact with others, frequently exposed to roaring engines, lighted arenas, monster trucks.)

Wouldn't the brain, especially the more primitive part, respond to such stimuli as threats? Is that why my nephew keeps trying to burrow his head into his mother's arm and turn away? It seems to me being raised in -- and living in -- urban environments evokes stress responses in brain and body.

As more and more of the world becomes urbanized, my guess is that making cities more people-friendly will become a major public policy issue later in this century. Especially as it becomes more and more obvious that urban stress causes mood and anxiety disorders; people who live in cities are twice as likely to have schizophrenia. Though I'm sure the figures are partly due to better access to mental health professionals, it's still significant. People lose their center, their balance.

No wonder so many folks want to get away to the beach or the mountains on vacation. I wish my grand-nephew could get away, too, until he's older and better able to cope with the stressors.

I'm lucky. I love to read, and I can get away from it all after work by reading in the evenings--after I lock my doors and windows and check that everything's secure and that my crazy neighbor is out of my back yard. What do people do who can't/don't read? Watch TV, I guess, with the volume cranked up.

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