Global urbanicity is associated with brain and behaviour in young people

Nat Hum Behav. 2021 Oct 28. doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01204-7. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Urbanicity is a growing environmental challenge for mental health. Here, we investigate correlations of urbanicity with brain structure and function, neuropsychology and mental illness symptoms in young people from China and Europe (total n = 3,867). We developed a remote-sensing satellite measure (UrbanSat) to quantify population density at any point on Earth. UrbanSat estimates of urbanicity were correlated with brain volume, cortical surface area and brain network connectivity in the medial prefrontal cortex and cerebellum. UrbanSat was also associated with perspective-taking and depression symptoms, and this was mediated by neural variables. Urbanicity effects were greatest when urban exposure occurred in childhood for the cerebellum, and from childhood to adolescence for the prefrontal cortex. As UrbanSat can be generalized to different geographies, it may enable assessments of correlations of urbanicity with mental illness and resilience globally.