Microsoft says social science will be the next frontier of science and technology

Microsoft in Cambridge
Microsoft in Cambridge (Photo credit: Rachel Ford James)

Microsoft Research New England head notes  that social science will be the next frontier of science and technology.

Where creativity meets technology –


The promise and perils of cities

One of several versions of the painting "...
One of several versions of the painting “The Scream”. The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cities have been the engines of civilization for millennia, serving as places where the arts, commerce, and ideas flourish.  But as we are reminded in a recent article, the close social interactions that make a city so productive also proved ideal for tuberculosis, measles, the plague, and many other diseases. In European capitals, circa 1800, deaths exceeded births; these cities only grew because of the influx of people from the countryside. An average man in 19th-century Paris was physically shorter than his rural counterpart. Today, the physical threats of cities are being exceeded by mental ones.  People living in an urban setting are 21 percent more likely to experience an anxiety disorder, and 39 percent more likely to experience mood disorders. City life roughly doubles the chances a person will suffer from schizophrenia, and this threat increases with time in cities, like the effect of an accumulating toxin. The article notes that German scientists have found, for the first time, the specific structures in the brain affected by city life. Using brain scanners, they demonstrated that people who lived in cities showed a greater stress response in the amygdala, a brain area that processes emotions. And a second structure, which helps regulate the amygdala, showed a heightened stress response in people who were raised in cities, according to a report in the journal Nature.

The discovery suggests a specific mechanism by which cities, with their steady stress, might unbalance parts of the mind. Scientists can now look at particular aspects of urban design — a particular layout of streets, say, or the preponderance of straight lines — to see which ones cause the signature brain changes. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, one of the German scientists who led the research, says he has already begun to look into just these sorts of questions.

Cities on the brain –