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      City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans

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          Abstract

          More than half of the world's population now lives in cities, making the creation of a healthy urban environment a major policy priority. Cities have both health risks and benefits, but mental health is negatively affected: mood and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in city dwellers and the incidence of schizophrenia is strongly increased in people born and raised in cities. Although these findings have been widely attributed to the urban social environment, the neural processes that could mediate such associations are unknown. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging in three independent experiments, that urban upbringing and city living have dissociable impacts on social evaluative stress processing in humans. Current city living was associated with increased amygdala activity, whereas urban upbringing affected the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, a key region for regulation of amygdala activity, negative affect and stress. These findings were regionally and behaviourally specific, as no other brain structures were affected and no urbanicity effect was seen during control experiments invoking cognitive processing without stress. Our results identify distinct neural mechanisms for an established environmental risk factor, link the urban environment for the first time to social stress processing, suggest that brain regions differ in vulnerability to this risk factor across the lifespan, and indicate that experimental interrogation of epidemiological associations is a promising strategy in social neuroscience.

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          Most cited references 17

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          The environment and schizophrenia.

          Psychotic syndromes can be understood as disorders of adaptation to social context. Although heritability is often emphasized, onset is associated with environmental factors such as early life adversity, growing up in an urban environment, minority group position and cannabis use, suggesting that exposure may have an impact on the developing 'social' brain during sensitive periods. Therefore heritability, as an index of genetic influence, may be of limited explanatory power unless viewed in the context of interaction with social effects. Longitudinal research is needed to uncover gene-environment interplay that determines how expression of vulnerability in the general population may give rise to more severe psychopathology.
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            Neural mechanisms of genetic risk for impulsivity and violence in humans.

            Neurobiological factors contributing to violence in humans remain poorly understood. One approach to this question is examining allelic variation in the X-linked monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene, previously associated with impulsive aggression in animals and humans. Here, we have studied the impact of a common functional polymorphism in MAOA on brain structure and function assessed with MRI in a large sample of healthy human volunteers. We show that the low expression variant, associated with increased risk of violent behavior, predicted pronounced limbic volume reductions and hyperresponsive amygdala during emotional arousal, with diminished reactivity of regulatory prefrontal regions, compared with the high expression allele. In men, the low expression allele is also associated with changes in orbitofrontal volume, amygdala and hippocampus hyperreactivity during aversive recall, and impaired cingulate activation during cognitive inhibition. Our data identify differences in limbic circuitry for emotion regulation and cognitive control that may be involved in the association of MAOA with impulsive aggression, suggest neural systems-level effects of X-inactivation in human brain, and point toward potential targets for a biological approach toward violence.
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              Know your place: neural processing of social hierarchy in humans.

              Social hierarchies guide behavior in many species, including humans, where status also has an enormous impact on motivation and health. However, little is known about the underlying neural representation of social hierarchies in humans. In the present study, we identify dissociable neural responses to perceived social rank using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in an interactive, simulated social context. In both stable and unstable social hierarchies, viewing a superior individual differentially engaged perceptual-attentional, saliency, and cognitive systems, notably dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In the unstable hierarchy setting, additional regions related to emotional processing (amygdala), social cognition (medial prefrontal cortex), and behavioral readiness were recruited. Furthermore, social hierarchical consequences of performance were neurally dissociable and of comparable salience to monetary reward, providing a neural basis for the high motivational value of status. Our results identify neural mechanisms that may mediate the enormous influence of social status on human behavior and health.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                June 2011
                June 22 2011
                June 2011
                : 474
                : 7352
                : 498-501
                Article
                10.1038/nature10190
                21697947
                © 2011

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