Betcha didn't know that a daily dose of Grand Theft Auto can physically enlarge the oh-so-healthy gray matter in your brain. Or that King Tutankhamun probably unleashed that famous curse on everybody who entered his tomb because he was badly mummified, and his body spontaneously combusted. Oh, and it turns out gay and straight men have differently shaped faces — and gay men typically look more masculine. For more in this week's most surprising studies, keep reading...
Playing Video Games Makes Your Brain Bigger
Your mom certainly didn't see this one coming: new German research indicates that playing video games actually increases the size of your brain's gray matter. The cross-university study, wonderfully titled "Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity," used a MRI measure the brain volume of two groups: one played Super Mario for 30 minutes a day for two months, and the other didn't. Before the experiment, the two groups shared similar amounts of gray matter, and afterwards the Mario group showed "significant gray matter increase."
Increased amounts of gray matter has been associated with better brain health: improved memory, better brain function, battling off dementia, and so on. Wrote the researchers: "Video gaming is a highly pervasive activity, providing a multitude of complex cognitive and motor demands." We imagine they were proudly playing Grand Theft Auto at the time. "Gaming can be seen as an intense training of several skills," they concluded.
We Think Trustworthy People Look Like Us
Well, you'd trust you, right? A new study from London's University of Holloway indicates that trusting someone makes you perceive their appearance as similar to yours. Research has already shown that we think people who look like us are more trustworthy than those who don't, but this is the first time it's been shown to work both ways. Because who better to trust than, um, yourself?
The Holloway researchers played some serious mind games with this one: they had their participants argue with computer-generated faces that looked like theirs in varying degrees. Some mock-faces turned out to be trustworthy, and some didn't, because, you know, you can't always count on those digital faces to keep your secrets. After the experiment, the participants were asked how similar each face was to their own. The trustworthy faces were more likely to be considered similar to the person's own face, even if they actually didn't look alike.
Straight And Gay Men Might Have Differently Shaped Faces
This is pretty interesting: a small-scale study by researchers in Prague and the Czech Republic suggests that gay and straight men have slight differences in their facial structure. Gay men, it turns out, are more likely to be rated "masculine" than their straight counterparts: they had wider and shorter faces, smaller and shorter noses, and larger and more rounded jaws. So there's something you didn't know.
The researchers warned that the differences were too slight to identify someone's sexual orientation based on their face shape; they asked their participants to try, and by and large they all failed. "The fact that we have found some significant morphological differences between homosexual and heterosexual men does not mean that any of the groups is easily recognizable on the street," stressed one of the study's authors.
July Might Be The Worst Time To Be In A Hospital
Turns out there's a grain of truth to the "July effect." The hypothesis goes like this: July is the worst month of the year to be in a hospital, because that's when newly-minted doctors straight out of med school begin, replacing the more experienced ones. A Harvard research group took a bunch of hospitals and examined the likelihood of patient death in July compared to other months, which is about as cheery as it sounds. There's good and bad news...
On the bright side, not everybody who walks through the doors of a teaching-intensive hospital in July suffers more than they would at other points of the year. Unfortunately, the very sick saw their chances of dying increased by a third in July — but only in teaching-intensive establishments. In non-teaching hospitals, that gap simply didn't exist. Sooo, that's awkward...
King Tut Died A Pretty Awful Death
You've probably heard of Tutankhamun, Egypt's most famous pharaoh, who died three and a half thousand years ago. Which is exactly how long it's taken for details of Tut's death to emerge, and it turns out he probably got into a chariot accident and, after his burial, spontaneously combusted. The Egyptians probably never knew about that last part, and it was all because they sort of messed up his mummification. Oops.
Using X-rays and CT scans of the king's mummified corpse, British researchers found evidence of a car crash. But there were no cars in Ancient Egypt (or so we think...) and so they decided it must be a chariot crash. It looks like his mummification was rushed and got botched along the way, leading to his corpse catching fire inside his tomb. So, uh, there's that.
Bilingual People Stave Off Dementia
Speak more than one language? You're in luck, albeit a pretty dark kind of luck: those who speak more than one language get to stave off dementia for close to five years. It doesn't matter how fluent you are, or what kind of language it is; just being able to speak it makes you less susceptible to early-onset dementia. Not that you get to give it a miss altogether, mind you. it just happens roughly four and a half years later. Um, good!
Alzheimer's is the fifth leading cause of death in Americans over 65, and is the most common type of dementia. Being bilingual or multilingual protects against Alzheimer's as well as two other kinds of dementia, so if you've got another language, you're golden. For four and a half years, anyway.