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Urban Brain Lab

The Lab: The Urban Brain Lab undertakes a range of research projects whose overarching aim is to rest the relations between the sociological and neurobiological sciences, using questions of ‘urbanicity’ as its empirical focus – the connections between the social and the neurological lives of urban citizens, with particular attention to mental health. The relationship between urban life and mental health has been a topic of longstanding interest in the social sciences – but is also now receiving particular attention within the neurobiological and psychiatric sciences, as investigators try to see whether the effects and process of city living can actually be measured at the level of the brain.

The work of the Lab was initially funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) ‘Transforming Social Science’ grant on the topic of ‘a new sociology for a new century' and, following on from that, it has undertaken three specific projects on Mental Health, Migration and the Megacity – in Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Toronto

The core team of the Urban Brain Lab includes: Professor Nikolas Rose, Dr Des Fitzgerald (Cardiff University), Professor Nick Manning and Professor Ash Amin (University of Cambridge). 


The Urban Brain Lab’s research programme explores the ways that urban sociologists, neuroscientists and mental health professionals can work together to understand the complex interactions between the socio-political life of the city and the development of psychiatric problems, with a view to guiding practices that can help create ‘mental health friendly’ cities.

In this work, we collaborate with urban planners, architects, and others, as well as those responsible for urban mental health, and we particularly work with the Thrive initiatives that have been established by city mayors in many parts of the world.

As it pursues this question through its research programme, the Lab is also trying to show that there may be room for a different kind of relationship between sociology and the biosciences. Aligning itself with what the microbiologist and physicist, Carl Woese, has called ‘a new biology for a new century,’ the Lab asks: what would it mean to develop a truly ‘vital’ sociology that overcame the mutual suspicion between the social sciences and the life sciences.


Our research combines conventional social epidemiology with deep ethnographic analysis, and we also use a range of tools, including the Urban Mind app, to grasp the interactions between urban experiences, mental life and mental health.


The following projects help us understand the full spectrum of the Urban Brain Lab:

  • A New Sociology for a New Century: an ESRC ‘Transforming Social Science’ project
  • Mental Health, Migration and the Megacity (Shanghai) – funded by the ESRC’s Newton fund
  • Mental Health, Migration and the Megacity (Sao Paulo) – funded by the  São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)
  • Mental Health, Migration and the Megacity (Toronto) – funded by Toronto’s Wellesley Foundation for Urban Health