Magazine article Natural History


Magazine article Natural History


Article excerpt

The Play's the Thing

Lynda L. Sharpe's article ["Meerkats At Flay," 4/07] was a treat. But I wonder, could play simply be the product of mammalian brainpower? Does one need to play to maintain a more highly developed brain? As a kid, I'd say "I'm bored," and the response would be, "Go outside and play!" In no time, I'd be enjoying myself and discovering things.

C.-A. Thompson

Gloucester, Massachusetts

LYNDA L. SHARPE REPLIES: C.-A. Thompson's idea is one of the tew theories put forward to explain play that is supported by some scientific evidence. There seems to be a correlation between relative brain size and the tendency to play, in birds as well as mammals. And laboratory studios have found that young rats develop better learning abilities, heavier cerebral cortexes, and greater neural connectivity when exposed to a complex environment. Sensory stimulation and arousal alone did not affect the rats' brains, but when those factors were accompanied by interactive behavior (as in play), brain growth increased.

Long Life

In "Pregnancy Reconceived" [5/07], Gil Mor notes that fetal cells reside in the mother decades after her pregnancy, and that those cells can repair maternal tissue. Could that phenomenon help explain why, on average, women live longer than men?

Sondra F. Messina

Fresh Meadows, New York

GIL MOR REPLIES: That might be a significant factor, but to evaluate that possibility, one would have to determine whether women who live longer are more likely to have been pregnant at some time in their lives. …

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