Urban Blues

Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg studied the brain activity of city dwellers to pinpoint the reasons for their heightened risk of emotional disorders like depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia:

Astonishingly, though, we discovered one particular region, the amygdala, whose activity under pressure exactly matched the subjects’ address: the more urban their home environment, the more engaged their amygdala became. This cherry-size structure, deep within the temporal lobe, serves as a danger sensor of sorts, prompting the “fight or flight” response. It also modulates emotions such as fear. In our study, the amygdala seemed almost impervious to stress among villagers and was only moderately active among those from small towns. For big city residents, stress kicked it into overdrive.

Meanwhile, there could be an app for this: Colin Lecher inspects the progress of two scientists looking to develop and market MoodTune to combat depression more broadly:

You’ll open the app and be directed to a simple game (there are “six or seven” games so far Konig says.) … A face appears onscreen. The user–or patient, depending on your thoughts about the app–looks at the face as words flash above it: “Happy.” “Happy.” “Sad.” “Happy.” The user gets slammed with some serious cognitive dissonance as they try to reconcile the faces and words. After the user is done, he gets a review of his score for the game, as well as his overall progress in treatment.

An exercise like that can cause certain parts of the brain to work overtime, Pizzagalli says. It’s enough, he says, to give certain parts of the brain a “tune-up” and enough, apparently, when done for 15 minutes every day, to counteract some of the symptoms of depression.