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Sunday, February 8

I knew it!

A new study shows that being risk-averse may shorten your life.
By Christine Kenneally

Despite old-fashioned wisdom about looking before you leap and fools rushing in, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that caution can actually kill you. Researchers at the University of Chicago found in a recent experiment that individuals who fear novelty—a condition scientists have named "neophobia"—are likelier to die at an earlier age than those who are unafraid of change. It is the first time, says Cavigelli, a study has demonstrated that an emotional trait apparent in infancy can shorten life span.

For this research, scientists followed the lives and fortunes of pairs of rat brothers for several years. The scientists chose their subjects by first establishing which of the rats were neophobic. To do this, they placed the young rats inside a bowl in a small room. Objects the rats hadn't seen before—a rock, a metal box, a plastic tunnel—were placed in each corner of the room. The rats the scientists deemed neophobic either stayed hunkered down in the bowl or left it only hesitantly, with hunched backs, stilted walks, and bristling fur. The rats who left the bowl quickly to explore the room and the various unfamiliar objects were dubbed neophilic.

After their experience in the testing room, the neophobic rats were shown to have elevated levels of corticoid—a hormone typically secreted as part of the flight-or-fight response, tested over the course of their lives, the neophobic rats continued to have elevated corticoid levels not only in response to their frightening experience, but at other random moments throughout their lives.

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