Sanity and the City

What’s New in Psychology?

Sanity and the City

Jim Windell

             Does living in a city make you crazy?

            Perhaps many people living in rural areas would argue just that – that living in an urban area makes people mentally ill.

            But if this is so, why do almost two-thirds of all people in the world reside in urban centers?  

            The answer to that is fairly obvious. Cities provide jobs, housing, utilities and services that the country just cannot offer.

            Previous research has indicated that those living in urban areas do have greater health issues. The reasons for this may have to do with environmental and socioeconomic factors; factors such as income disparity, family poverty, overcrowding, traffic, pollution and stress. All of these factors increase a person’s risk of developing psychotic-like experiences, such as subtle hallucinations and delusions that can become precursors to a schizophrenia diagnosis later in life. Research related to urban mental heath in the past has focused on young adults. Now, however, thanks to the data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, researchers at the University of Rochester have found these risk factors can be observed in pre-adolescent children.

           Researchers from the department of Psychology at the University of Rochester looked at data collected from 8,000 kids enrolled in the ABCD study. In the study, recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, they report that they found that the more urban of an environment a child lived in – proximity to roads, houses with lead paint risks, families in poverty, and income disparity – the greater number of psychotic-like experiences they had over a year’s time.

           The University of Rochester Medical Center is one of 21 research sites across the country collecting data for the National Institutes of Health ABCD Study. Since 2017, 340 children from the greater Rochester area have been participating in the 10-year study. In all, the study is following 11,750 children through early adulthood looking at how biological development, behaviors, and experiences impact brain maturation and other aspects of their lives, including academic achievement, social development, and overall health.

           “It is disconcerting that the association between these exposures and psychotic-like experiences are already present in late childhood,” said David Dodell-Feder, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and lead author of this study. “The fact that the impact of these exposures may occur as early as pre-adolescence highlights the importance of early prevention.”

           According to Abhishek Saxena, a graduate student in the department of Psychology at the University of Rochester and first author of the study, “These findings could have a major impact on public health initiatives to reduce the risk of psychotic like experiences. Past research has largely focused on the biological factors that lead to development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders, but we now know that social and environmental factors can also play a large role in the risk and development of schizophrenia. And this research shows these factors impact people starting at a very young age.”

           The bottom line, though, is clear: Urban living is associated with increased psychotic-like symptoms in childhood and early adolescence.

           To read the original study, find it with this reference:

           Saxena, A, & Dodell-Feder, D. (2022). Explaining the Association Between Urbanicity and Psychotic-Like Experiences in Pre-Adolescence: The Indirect Effect of Urban Exposures. Frontiers of Psychiatry,

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