Eating a spoonful of sugar will cure your hiccups. Picking up a toad will give you warts. These little dubious tips are commonly called old wives' tales -- you usually hear them from your superstitious grandparents, and they're usually bullshit.
Usually, but not always. Some of these folk cures and bizarre warnings have stuck around for a reason, and it just took science a while to catch up ...
So you were chewing gum and for whatever reason decided to store it for later by sticking it onto your scalp. We have no idea why techniques for getting gum out of hair became necessary, let alone popular, seeing as there are very few reasons why gum should ever come into the vicinity of the top of your head (maybe you were aiming for your mouth and missed?). Regardless, there are plenty of folk remedies that claim to hold the solution to this apparently age-old problem, and one of the most popular is to shampoo your gummed-up head with peanut butter -- the offending wad will wash right out.
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Honestly, it sounds like a prank. Wasn't there a whole Simpsons subplot about this going disastrously wrong?
It seems like such a nonsense answer because, well, gum is sticky, and peanut butter is sticky, so how would this not just create a bigger, stickier mess? And one that makes it look like somebody took a shit on your head? The secret, though, is the oil.
Basically, the reason gum doesn't come out with a quick shower is that it's a hydrophobic substance -- it doesn't dissolve in water. Try to wash that shit out and it will only stick harder, like an alien facehugger poked with a scalpel. But it does dissolve in oil, and peanut butter is full of it.
"Wait, doesn't that mean I could use cooking oil or some shit instead?" Sure, and you can browse YouTube and watch thousands of videos of people using olive oil -- it seems to work fine. People always cite peanut butter either because it's easier to work with (as opposed to leaning over the sink and dumping half a bottle of canola oil on your head) or because it makes a more interesting "fun fact" since it's so unexpected. Hell, that's why we did it.
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You've probably heard an old person say they know it's going to rain because they "feel it in their bones." You probably also dismissed that codger because you know that old people don't have some kind of magical divining rod lodged in their skeleton that can predict the future better than the folks on the Weather Channel. Still, the idea that the elderly have a sixth sense about this kind of thing has been around as long as the weather has.
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You should have a little more respect for your elders, because science has discovered that old people really do have magic weather-predicting powers. And by that we mean arthritis. When a storm begins to form, it's preceded by a drop in air pressure. The leading theory about how elderly people are able to detect this drop in pressure is that it wreaks all kinds of havoc on the fluid in their joints, making their already tortured limbs swell up and throb like the dickens.
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One way of thinking about it is that your body is like a balloon, and it keeps its shape because the pressure on the inside is the same as that on the outside. When the outside pressure drops, the balloon expands -- and so does your body. If you have arthritic joints, like the decrepit skeletons of many septuagenarians, this translates into aches and pains that generations of the elderly have come to associate with an upcoming change in the weather (note: low air pressure = rain).
And it's not just your joints -- science has also figured out that headaches can be brought on by the electromagnetic disturbance caused by an approaching storm. Researchers found that headache and migraine sufferers had a 31 percent increase in brain pain whenever lightning struck within 25 miles. They probably don't sense it in time for you to dodge out of the way or anything, but still, it's pretty weird.
Whenever you're freaking out about one of life's bigger decisions, one of the first pieces of generic advice your disinterested relatives and friends will give you is that you should "sleep on it" (as though the answer will come to you in your dreams, as opposed to the much more likely scenario that you'll have the same dream you always have about fighting dinosaurs on Mars while your teeth are falling out). Honestly, what could be more counterintuitive than taking time away from consciously thinking about the problem to spend several hours in a thought-free comatose state?
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Researchers at Lancaster University tested this by presenting verbal insight problems to three groups of participants. One group was allowed to sleep on the problem, another was made to stay awake and think about it, and the third was forced to solve the problem immediately, presumably while being whipped by some taskmaster armed with a cat-o'-nine-tails.
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And what they found was that for the most difficult problems, those who slept on it performed far better than either of the other two groups. We imagine that those who weren't allowed any time to think were probably too busy crying to put in the effort, but why does sleeping achieve more than, you know, actually ruminating on the problem you're solving?
According to the researchers, sleep allows you to "access information that is remote to the initial problem." In other words, when you're awake and focused, you're so dedicated to observing the shit out of those trees that you have no chance of seeing the forest. Sleep time is when your brain chills out, puts its feet up, and works at its own pace. And apparently it devotes the rest of its energy to making you hallucinate that you're back in high school and have somehow forgotten your homework, books, pants, and teeth.
If you're expecting a baby, it's likely that your mother has descended upon you like a hawk on a squirrel spouting centuries-old handed-down mother knowledge about how to keep that baby healthy, how to tell if it'll be a boy or a girl, and every other fucking thing. Things like, if you're trying for a boy, you should add more bananas to your diet.
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We can only assume that old-timey superstitions were based on the idea that the more phallic the food you ate, the more chance you had of spitting out a small human who was hung like Ron Jeremy, because that's just the kind of logic they ran with back then.
Scholars at the prestigious Oxford University teamed up with those at Exeter to settle this grand debate and concluded that bananas do indeed make boys. In the study of 740 pregnant women, they found that "women who consume more calories around the time of conception, and, in particular, eat more bananas, are more likely to have sons." In conjunction, they discovered that skipping breakfast gave a greater likelihood of a baby girl.
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The researchers believe that it has something to do with the high potassium levels in bananas that tipped the scales toward the penis end of the spectrum. But before you go bingeing on bananas and blaming Cracked when you still give birth to a dreaded girl-baby, we should note that the high-banana diet only increased the male birth rate to 55 percent of the time, which is slightly more than the usual 50-50 coin toss, but far from rigging the game. Nature still has its ways of ensuring that the entire human race doesn't become one giant sausage party.
And, incredibly, this is only the second-stupidest baby-related old wives' tale on the list ...
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Yes, another longstanding tall tale is that if a mother experiences heartburn during her pregnancy, she'll give birth to a hairy child. Because, what, the pain in her stomach is due to her werewolf child trying to claw its way out?
A group at Johns Hopkins University conducted a study intending to put this myth to rest, but during the course of their investigation, they accidentally proved it true, and nobody was more surprised than they were. The study followed 64 pregnant women, with 78 percent of them reporting some kind of heartburn during pregnancy. When the women had their babies, they were judged by impartial witnesses on their hairiness (we want to reiterate once again how really ridiculous the life of a scientist is).
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It turned out that, out of 28 mothers who reported having moderate to severe heartburn, 23 had babies deemed to be either moderately or spectacularly hairy. On the flip side, 12 of the mothers reported no heartburn, and 10 of these women had kids with little or no hair. And as weird as it sounds, the explanation could be fairly simple. They think it has something to do with high levels of estrogen in the mother, which has been shown both to trigger relaxation in the esophagus (causing heartburn) and also to create hairier babies.
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Please note that it's not that heartburn causes a hairy baby, so don't feel like you can just chug a bunch of chili for nine months in hopes of adding fur to your infant. We know one of you freaks was going to try that, don't bother denying it.
Related Reading: And hey, did you know chicken soup really is good for your cold? Not every myth about healthcare is true though. If you believe heart attacks always hurt you might be in for a painless, but deadly, surprise. And we're not even getting into all the ridiculous sex myths from history we're sure you believe. But if you click that link, we'll get to busting them.