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Want to Feel More Optimistic? Wash Your Hands

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The toughest tasks can often seem far from completion, even after days of working on them—causing stress and anxiety to build. If you're facing a problem like this, consider washing your hands: Researchers have found that people feel more optimistic after doing so.

Kai Kaspar of the University of Osnabrück in Germany asked people to complete an “impossible task.” As expected, everyone bombed the exercise. Half of the subjects were asked to wash their hands, while the other half were not, and each group reported how they felt. While both cohorts admitted to feeling optimistic, those who washed their hands experienced more optimistism.

But all this positive thinking did not lead to more motivation. The subjects who didn’t wash performed better when they attempted the task a second time than those who did. This indicates that cleansing equals some sort of closure—those who had washed felt as if their work was complete.

Kaspar isn’t the first to examine hand washing and mood. Researchers know that when people feel guilty and wash their hands, their guilt lessens—what’s known at the Macbeth effect, named for the Shakespearian murderess who tries easing her conscience with a thorough scrubbing. Experts also found that cleanliness is next to godliness—a nice scrubbing makes people feel more moral.

"I wanted to enlarge this scope to actual cognitive performance because previous literature suggests that washing can remove traces of the past—undesirable or desirable," Kaspar told National Geographic. "Consequently, I asked whether washing can also reboot our optimism after failure and what consequences this would have on subsequent performance." If you want to try it, just make sure to wash for at least 20 seconds. A shorter rinsing doesn’t have the same impact.

But why does hand washing influence mood? A theory known as embodied cognition explains why a motor activity impacts a high order function such as emotions. This theory says that just as the brain controls the body, the body influences the brain. Leaning forward, for example, makes people think of the future, while leaning back causes people to reflect on the past. These physical movements take root in literary symbolism. The ideas attached to cleansing—washing away guilt, bolstering physical and mental health, and improving looks—work their way into how hand washing makes us feel.

Kaspar’s study appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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Uncombable Hair Syndrome Is a Real—and Very Rare—Genetic Condition
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Everyone has bad hair days from time to time, but for roughly 100 people around the world, unmanageable hair is an actual medical condition.

Uncombable hair syndrome, also known as spun glass hair syndrome, is a rare condition caused by a genetic mutation that affects the formation and shape of hair shafts, BuzzFeed reports. People with the condition tend to have dry, unruly hair that can't be combed flat. It grows slower than normal and is typically silver, blond, or straw-colored. For some people, the symptoms disappear with age.

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Although there have been only about 100 documented cases worldwide, one of the world's leading researchers on the condition, Regina Betz, of Germany's University of Bonn, believes there could be thousands of others who have it but have not been diagnosed. Some have speculated that Einstein had the condition, but without a genetic test, it's impossible to know for sure.

An 18-month-old American girl named Taylor McGowan is one of the few people with this syndrome. Her parents sent blood samples to Betz to see if they were carriers of the gene mutation, and the results came back positive for variations of PADI3, one of three genes responsible for the syndrome. According to IFL Science, the condition is recessive, meaning that it "only presents when individuals receive mutant gene copies from both parents." Hence it's so uncommon.

Taylor's parents have embraced their daughter's unique 'do, creating a Facebook page called Baby Einstein 2.0 to share Taylor's story and educate others about the condition.

"It's what makes her look ever so special, just like Albert Einstein," Taylor's mom, Cara, says in a video uploaded to YouTube by SWNS TV. "We wanted to share her story with the world in hopes of spreading awareness."

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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