'Tis Actually Better (for Your Health) to Give Than Receive

J.K. Trotter
February 5, 2013

Discovered: Giving is good for the soul; New York's so-called "Broken Windows Theory" is wrong; gold-loving bacteria; the different ways we experience fear.

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Giving is good for you. It's nice getting things, sure, but one's health increases from the act of giving, not receiving, according to a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health that may soon find its way into lessons from parents everywhere. "We found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others," a researcher from the State of University of New York at Buffalo writes in the paper. Why? The answer is almost philosophic: "Helping others reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality." [American Journal of Public Health]

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Drop in New York City crime not tied to ComStat. New York City witnessed its violent crime rate dramatically fall in the 1990s — but why, exactly, did that happen? It's been attributed to everything from legalized abortion (Freakonomics), to the containment of lead (Mother Jones), and — until now — a program known a CompStat, a software program used by the NYPD to map and predict violent crime, combined with tougher policies on misdemeanors that would, in theory, suppress more violent crime. The last theory, popularly known as the "Broken Windows Theory" — is wrong. And so the sudden fall in crime remains mysterious. [Justice Quarterly]

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Bacteria seeks and metabolizes gold particles. Gold, the shiny precious metal used by humans to signal wealth, isn't known for hosting life, but a new paper published today shows that a certain kind of bacterium is capable of "biomineralizing" deposits of gold. Immediate applications for such bacterium aren't so clear, but researchers think it could be dropped into giant piles of waste, let sit for a few years, and eventually produce a few golden nuggets here or there. [Scientific American]

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There's more than one way to be afraid. One long-held assumption among neuroscientists is that we process and respond to fear or terror using nut-sized neural structures called amygdalae, which are nestled deep within our brains. The mechanism by which they trigger fear is still difficult to grasp, but it has something to do with the level of carbon dioxide present in blood. (Too much, and you get scared.) But researchers found a woman who lacks amygdalae and discovered that inducing artificially high levels of C02 triggered the same response. Every fear, it seems, is fearsome in its own way. [Nature]