New research shows city-dwellers lack focus

A research team from Goldsmiths College has found that city life reduces our ability to concentrate.

According to the study, led by psychologist Dr Karina Linnell, people living in remote areas are more efficient at focusing on simple tasks.

During research, rural members of a Namibian tribe and British city-dwellers were both given a series of tests.

Members of the Himba tribe – who had never lived in a city – were observed to have the highest levels of attention.

In one test, individuals were shown an image consisting of several human faces. They were then asked to recognise particular details about one of the faces.

When the images were was shown to a group of urban Himbas, a group of rural Himbas and a group of urban British, it was observed that the rural Himbas were the most efficient in responding to these tests.

“The key thing is not to be distracted by one’s surroundings,” explained Linnell. “The city-dwellers were all affected by big flashes of light even when asked to ignore them in a safe environment. The Himbas who had never lived in the city were not affected at all by them.”

The focus of the researchers is now to find out what creates this difference. One theory is that a very stimulating urban environment increases our levels of arousal and creates distraction and stress, making focus on simple tasks more difficult.

“It would seem we adopt a cognitive style based on the place we live in,” said Linnell.

“In the city, we need to be watchful for dangers and new opportunities. This might be an explanation.”

The research team consisted of Linnell and her collaborators Professor Davidoff, Dr de Fockert and Dr Caparos, with support from Goldsmiths department of psychology. They were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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