Skyscrapers and city living sends stress to new heights

It’s official: the hustle and bustle of city living can make a person’s stress level skyrocket.

Scientists tracking both heart rates and brain activity have found that living in a concrete jungle makes the pulse rate jump, while a quiet life can help boost creativity and peace of mind.

Researchers from Bond University used portable heart monitors and EEGs to track the physical responses at varying locations across the Gold Coast – Australia’s sixth-largest city and home to more than half a million people.

The study measuring the physical reactions to urban environments found people felt significantly more stressed in higher-density areas.

In lower-density areas, participants felt more comfortable, their negative mood decreased, and their heart rates were reduced, showing they were more relaxed.

At the same time, their brain activity was measured to show people felt a more contemplative and creative state of mind.

“There are a couple of possible explanations for this,” Assistant Professor of psychology Oliver Baumann said.

“In more closely built or condensed areas, people can perceive them as more dangerous because there is less open space and more traffic, which can increase their vigilance and fear response.

“In a more open area, these feelings are reduced, and that’s what we saw in the brain activity measures.”

The study hoped to provide evidence and opportunities for urban planners and residential community developers to embrace human-centred design.

“This has shown really clearly how urban environments can affect people’s health and wellbeing, and it offers a real opportunity to shape how we design cities, public spaces and residential developments,” Dr Baumann said.

“We’ve seen this used before mainly in office design. Google is a good example of where they have used this type of information to design workplaces that create certain responses in staff.”

Dr Baumann said the research could help design areas based on how they made people feel – ultimately adding to a development’s value and longevity.

“Creating places that we know people will want to live and then want to stay in can help reduce the risks that come with large financial investments and increase their long-term value.”


Robyn Wuth
(Australian Associated Press)


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