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  1. 1. Theories and Effects of Urban Living on Health and Social BehaviourThere are four main theoretical angles that examine the effects of urban living on health andsocial behaviour. They attempt to explain why there could be differences in health and socialbehaviours between people who live in urban areas compared to people who live in rural areas.The four approaches are highlighted below:Adaptation level theory. This theory states that any stimuli that are intense, complex ornovel can lead to either a positive or a negative effect, depending on the past experience ofthe individual concerned. Due to the differing levels of stimulation in a city or urban area (forexample, you may find a quiet park or a busy shopping mall), anyone can find his or heroptimal level of stimulation. Those people who initially find urban life too complex or intenseusually adapt over time and tolerate such stimulation. Similarly, those who are bored with thecountry life find pockets of cosmopolitan life in the country.Illustrative Evidence:Evaluative Evidence:Behaviour constraint theory. This theory states that people who live in urban areas feel thattheir behaviour is constrained in some way compared to people living in rural areas. Forexample, people may feel more fearful of crime in urban areas, or may know that they willexperience a potentially crowded shopping centre. This, of course, may lead to the personexperiencing negative effects, and as a consequence of this the person may wish to try toreassert his or her freedom from these constraints. In the long term, this may have strongernegative effects, especially if the assertion continually fails. People may then feel that theyhave no control over their actions and become depressed.Illustrative Evidence:Evaluative Evidence:Environmental stress theory. This theory states that specific stimuli in urban areas havenegative effects on our lives. For example, crowding and noise have been shown negatively toaffect humans. As we may feel threatened by such stimuli, a stress response may be elicited -emotionally, behaviourally or physiologically (or any combination of the three). Prolongedexposure to these stressful stimuli can have negative long-term effects.Illustrative Evidence:Evaluative Evidence:Overload theory. This theory states that people living in urban areas are bombarded with toomany stimuli that cannot all be processed. This theory differs from the environmental stress angleabove, as it looks at more general and numerous stimuli than just a specific one. The stimuli cancome from a variety of sources; for example, other humans living in the urban area, noise, toomany people being around, or trying to find "the correct amount of money for the car park! All ofthese overload our senses and lead us to try to cope with the overload caused. However, prolongedoverload can have negative effects, such as exhaustion and illness.Illustrative Evidence:Evaluative Evidence:
  2. 2. Health (much of the research is mixed)Levine et al. (1988) found that cities that experienced a fast pace of life had a greater number ofdeaths from coronary heart disease.Ford (1976) found that in busy cities where pollution levels are higher there were increased levelsof emphysema, bronchitis and lung cancer.Srole (1972) found arthritis and rheumatism rates to be lower in New York City than they werenationally. Evidence is far from conclusive and health issues must be considered on an individualbasis.Kovess et al. (1987) examined the differences in depressive disorders between urban and ruraldwellers in French Canada. They found lower rates of depression in rural areas.Fisher, M., Pastore, D., Schneider, M., Pegler, C. and Napolitano, B. (1994)Eatingattitudes in urban and suburban adolescents.International Journal of EatingDisorders.Aim: To examine any differences in attitudes towards eating, weight concern and self esteem inurban and suburban adolescents.Method: A total of 268 suburban females (mean age 16.2 years). 389 urban females and 281 urbanmales (combined mean age of 16.0 years) completed the questionnairesthat measured attitudestowards eating and self-esteem among others.Results: One of the main factors examined was the relationship between perceived weight andactual weight. The table below shows the relationship in the sample studied by %:Group Participants whoperceived themselves asover-weightParticipants who were 10%over their ideal bodyweightSuburban Females 63 14Urban Females 35 45Urban Males 19 39Self-esteem was significantly higher in the urban group compared to the suburban group.Suburbanadolescents are more likely to perceive themselves as being overweight when they are not. Urbanadolescents are more likely to perceive themselves as not being overweight when in fact they are.Conclusion: Abnormal eating attitudes are present among urban and suburban adolescents.Soderberget al. (1994)were interested in HIV prevalence rateswith respect to urban living andexamined the differences in prevalence rates in rural, semi-urban and urban areas in Tanzania.Aim: To measure the rates of HIV-1 infection in a series of subgroups of blood donors in Tanzania,Africa. This was a test of the idea of risky behaviour in cities.Method: During the period from March 1988 to April 1991, all blood donors, 3,474males and 1,287females, at the Ilembula Lutheran Hospital were asked about their home village, occupation, ageand marital status. They were also tested for the prevalence of HIV in their blood.Results: The table shows the % prevalence rate of HIV-1 infection split by gender and type ofarea in which they lived:Group Overall rate Urban rate Semi-Urban rate Rural RateMale 6.6 13.6 7.2 3.7Female 7.0 15.0 7.9 3.0Four high-risk groups emerged from the study: males and females from urban or semi-urban areas,
  3. 3. non-farmers from urban villages (compared to non-farmers in rural areas) and unmarried people.Conclusion: Thehighest rates are seen in urban areas. Soderberget al.stated that this is consistentwith people exhibiting more risky behaviour in urban communities.Yip, P.S., Callanan, C. and Vuen, H.P. (2000) Urban/rural and gender differentials insuicide rates: east and west. Journa/ of Affective Disorders,S7 (1-3), 99-106Aim: To examine the differences in suicide rates between rural and urban areas in Beijing (China)and Australia. Previous research had shown that there appear to be more suicides in urban areas.They also investigated the effect of gender on suicide rates in both urban and rural areas.Method: Data on suicides from 1991 to 1996 in both geographical areas were examined.Results: Contrary to expectations and previous research, the rural suicide rates were higher inBeijing for both males and females compared to urban suicide rates. Also, the elderly had thehighest suicide rate. For Australia, rural male suicide was higher than urban male suicide. Urbanfemales had a higher suicide rate compared to rural males.Conclusion: The idea that there are more suicides in urban areas was not supported as cultural andsocio-economic factors could explain why there were more rural suicides in Beijing and Australia(for example. the stress of making a living in rural areas).Social behaviourIt is difficult to clearly identify urban living as leading to differences in social behaviour as thereare so many interfering variables. However studies suggest that those living in smaller, more ruraltowns are friendlier towards strangers, demonstrated by fewer interactions and less eye contactamong urban dwellers. This was highlighted by a study conducted by Milgram (1977) whereundergraduates approached strangers in the street and extended their hands in a friendly manner.Only 38.5 per cent of city dwellers reciprocated compared to 66 per cent of more rural dwellers.KEY STUDY: Helping in 36 US cities, Levine, Martinez, Brase and Sorenson (1994)Aim:To investigate differences in helping behaviours in cities and regions across the USA and toinvestigate whether population density is a stronger predictor of helping behaviour than populationsize and to examine what other factors influence helping behaviour.Participants: A range from 36 US cities. These were: three large (population greater than 2m),three medium (950,000 - 1,450,000) and three small (350,000 - 600,000).Method: Three experimenters, all male, collected almost all of the data across the differentcities. All were college age and casually dressed. Standardised procedures were followed andinter-experimenter reliability was checked.Six different measures of helping were used:Dropped pen: a pen was ‘dropped’ and the experimenter carried on walking.Hurt leg: walking with a heavy limp and leg brace, dropped a pile of magazines.Change for a quarter: the experimenters asked oncoming pedestrians for change.Helping a blind person cross the street: wearingdark glasses and carrying a cane waitedfor assistance to cross the road.Lost letter: the % of dropped stamped addressed envelopes returned was measured.United Way contributions: per capita contributions to United Way campaigns for eacharea for 1990 were calculated from records.Results: There was a highly significant negative correlation between population density andhelping behaviour. Population size was also significantly negatively correlated with helping.Conclusions: This demonstrates that rather than simply city living affecting helping, thedensity is a greater predictor of whether an individual will receive help or not.These findingssupport overload theory which suggests that the external demands placed upon city dwellerslead to a state of overload which then distracts attention away from cues that influence socialbehaviour.One factor that may influence peoples willingness to help in urban areas is fear of crime. Theneed to protect themselves detracts from helping others. It is also possible that so much time istaken up attending to environmental cues that other cues (such as somebody requiring help) are
  4. 4. missed.