Urbanization decreases attentional engagement

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2013 Oct;39(5):1232-47. doi: 10.1037/a0031139. Epub 2013 Jan 21.


Exposure to the urban environment has been shown dramatically to increase the tendency to process contextual information. To further our understanding of this effect of urbanization, we compared performance on a local-selection task of a remote people, the Himba, living traditionally or relocated to town. We showed that (a) spatial attention was defocused in urbanized Himba but focused in traditional Himba (Experiment 1), despite urbanized Himba performing better on a working memory task (Experiment 3); (b) imposing a cognitive load made attention as defocused in traditional as in urbanized Himba (Experiment 2); and (c) using engaging stimuli/tasks made attention as focused in urbanized Himba, and British, as in traditional Himba (Experiments 4 and 5). We propose that urban environments prioritize exploration at the expense of attentional engagement and cognitive control of attentional selection.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Namibia / ethnology
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Urbanization*
  • Young Adult