…a group of researchers at Hammersmith hospital, in London, are among many who believe that dopamine could hold the answer. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter with many functions, one of which is to infuse your brain when something important – good or bad – is happening. It might be that you are tasting an ice cream and your body wants you to eat the lot while you can, or it might be that a volcano is erupting and your body wants you to find your car keys nice and promptly. Dopamine levels are often very high in parts of schizophrenic peoples’ brains.
“How we explain that at the moment,” says one of the researchers, Michael Bloomfield, “is If there’s just a car going past your house, normally your dopamine cells wouldn’t fire, because it’s just a car. But if your dopamine cells are firing, your brain will try and make sense of it. It will seem to say there’s something very important about that car, then your brain will try to process that and, depending on your experience and your culture, it might jump to the conclusion that it was MI5 following you around.”
Cities, the theory goes, might be part of the reason why a person’s dopamine production starts to go wrong in the first place. Repeated stress is thought to lead to this problem in some people, so if high social density combined with social isolation could be shown to do so, and thus to alter the dopamine system, we might have the first rough sketches of a map from city living all the way to schizophrenia, and perhaps other things.
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