11/07/2012 05:26 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

4 of Play's Lesser-Known Benefits

You probably already know that playing makes you smarter, more creative and happier. But if that research hasn't convinced you, consider this:

You know who doesn't play? Mass murderers. In his book Play, psychiatrist Stewart Brown describes research where he interviewed some 6,000 people, from Nobel Prize winners to Texas murderers. The main thing that distinguished the killers from the productive members of society? Abusive childhoods and a lack of "rough-and-tumble" play. This finding dovetails with research by Sergio Pellis, who found that roughhousing spurs neuronal growth in the brain's orbitofrontal cortex. That's the part of your brain that helps you read social cues and make sound decisions, among other things. It's paradoxical, but play fighting with your little brother may have also taught how to keep your aggressive urges in check, Brown says.

Play helps prevent Alzheimer's disease. Ballroom dancing, playing a musical instrument or playing checkers can prevent (or at least forestall) the development of Alzheimer's disease. These activities may work by releasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which spurs the growth of neurons and encourages them to make new connections.

Play now, win a MacArthur grant later. Do your children claim your closet is a submarine and go for adventures in it for hours on end? They may be future MacArthur "genius" grant winners, according to one recent study, which found that people who won the award as adults were twice as likely to have invented elaborate worlds as children than regular college grads. (One caveat, however: A recent meta-analysis found that pretend play doesn't have any particular benefits.)

Play makes you into Jack Donaghy. Are you about to ask your boss for a raise? First, gnaw on some objects around your office. OK, the results of a rat study might not be directly applicable to your life, but the researchers did find that adult rats who got the opportunity to play with novel objects became more bold and relaxed -- just the attitude you need to get ahead at work.

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