* Greater Good Research Digests offer short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to our research feed to receive future digests in your Inbox.
How Exercise Is Good for Memory and the Brain
"Little Exercise, Big Effects: Reversing Aging and Infection-Induced Memory Deficits, and Underlying Processes"
Barrientos, R.M, et. al. The Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 31 (32), August 2011, 11578-11586.
Exercise is not just important to keep the pounds off; it’s also good for the brain. This study suggests that small amounts of exercise in rodents can reverse illness-related memory problems. Researchers gave rats free access to a running wheel for six weeks. Afterwards, they tested the animals’ memories, and compared their blood and brains to those of rats who did not have access to a running wheel. They found that animals who exercised had a healthier immune system and higher levels of a protein involved in both brain cell growth and connections between brain cells. In line with these findings, animals who exercised also performed better on memory tasks. These results highlight the potent role that exercise plays in our health and cognition. —Samuel Sakhai
Tough Guys Sacrifice More
"Face Structure Predicts Cooperation: Men With Wider Faces Are More Generous to Their In-Group When Out-Group Competition Is Salient"
Stirrat, M., & Perrett, D. I. Psychological Science, publication forthcoming.
Tough guys are more self-sacrificing, this study suggests—and you can spot them by the shape of their face. While past research has linked wider male faces with anti-social tendencies such as cheating and exploitation, this study explored whether wide-faced men are also more willing to make sacrifices for the common good. In the study, male college students played a game where they could sacrifice some money for the good of a group or keep more for themselves; they were told that their performance would be compared with that of students from a rival university. The results show that men with wider faces sacrificed more of their money than narrow-faced men.
According to the authors, the results suggest how, over the course of evolution, physical traits become intertwined with certain behavioral tendencies. In this case, facial width might have become linked with an aggressiveness that can motivate anti-social or pro-social behavior, depending on the circumstances. The results are especially interesting, the authors note, in light of recent findings suggesting that financial firms with wider-faced CEOs perform better than other firms. —Delia Fuhrmann