Shocking research: City living causes your brain to stop recognizing objects from the natural world
11/16/2019 // Tracey Watson // Views

City slickers the world over wouldn’t trade living in the heart of the action for anything. For many, living in a big city, with world class restaurants, markets, museums and art galleries is what living is all about.

But could living in the concrete jungle cause city slickers to lose touch with nature, desensitizing them to the real jungle, animals and plants?

New research, recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, would seem to indicate that living in a built-up city environment for long enough can permanently alter your perception of the world around you. (Related: 15 ways to know you're living way too close to the city.)

City life changes how you view the world

As noted in the study abstract, researchers routinely use ambiguous images to probe how humans perceive their environment:

Perceptual biases that arise when people make judgments about ambiguous images reveal their expectations about the environment. …

Vision is famously underconstrained, and how we interpret what we see can shed light on both perceptual and cognitive processes.

With this in mind, the research team set out to see whether living in a built-up environment alters human perception. To test this, they melded photographs of artificial images like tables, cars and other man-made items with images of different animals.

Science Mag reported:

To find out whether built environments can alter peoples’ perception, the researchers gathered hundreds of photos of animals and artificial objects such as bicycles, laptops, or benches. Then, they superimposed them to create hybrid images—like a horse combined with a table or a rhinoceros combined with a car. As volunteers watched the hybrids flash by on a screen, they categorized each as a small animal, a big animal, a small humanmade object, or a big humanmade object.


The researchers’ findings were quite shocking. The majority of the study participants demonstrated a distinct bias towards the manufactured images rather than those of natural objects. For most people, the researchers had to highlight the images of the animals considerably before the participants started to see them rather than the man-made images.

An example of this that most of us can relate to is seeing a snake in the garden and mistaking it for a garden hose because that is what we are used to seeing in that environment.

The researchers concluded that people’s environments fundamentally alter their perception of the world around them, and that living in built-up, industrial areas where they see fewer natural objects on a daily basis could ultimately change the way they see the world.

With so many people now living in cities and therefore becoming increasingly isolated from reality, perhaps this study helps us to understand why so many people’s beliefs are also so far removed from reality. For example, so many are now willing to believe that biology simply does not matter, and that gender is something you get to choose rather than something that is assigned to you from the moment of conception. (Related: Gender is NOT a “social construct” – it has a real biological basis.)

While it is unlikely that this study will get city slickers to start moving to the suburbs in droves, it does remind us that to remain human and to stay in touch with the natural world around us, it is important to spend as much time out in nature as possible – especially if we have made the concrete jungle our home.

Learn more about the wonders of the natural world at

Sources for this article include:

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