Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us



(Photo: Mopic/Shutterstock)

Cynics Are at a Higher Risk of Developing Dementia

• May 28, 2014 • 1:00 PM

(Photo: Mopic/Shutterstock)

New research from Finland finds there’s danger in thinking the worst of your fellow man.

Aging Baby Boomers: What would you do to ward off dementia? Exercise more? Play games designed to beef up brain circuits? Well, here’s another, less-obvious recommendation: Drop your cynicism.

A first-of-its kind study reports seniors expressing high levels of cynical distrust are at a higher risk of developing dementia. This finding, discovered in a population of elderly Finns, was not entirely explained by depressive symptoms, and remained robust after various risk factors were taken into account.

The results suggest it may be possible “to improve life quality by attempting to change people’s attitudes to a more positive direction,” writes a research team led by Anna-Maija Tolppanen of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. Its research is published in the journal Neurology.

“After accounting for cardiovascular risk factors, people with the highest level of cynical distrust had 2.54 times greater risk of incident dementia, compared with the people with low cynical distrust.”

The study used data on 622 elderly people living in Eastern Finland. They were examined for signs of dementia in 1998, when they were between the ages of 65 and 80, and again in a follow-up exam between 2005 and 2008.

During the initial exam, participants responded to a series of eight statements designed to measure their level of cynical distrust. They expressed their level of agreement or disagreement with such assertions as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “Most people make friends because friends are likely to be useful to them,” and “It is safer to trust nobody.”

Forty-six people were diagnosed with dementia during the second test after getting a clean bill of mental health on the first one. “After accounting for cardiovascular risk factors,” the researchers write, “people with the highest level of cynical distrust had 2.54 times greater risk of incident dementia, compared with the people with low cynical distrust.”

Tolppanen and her colleagues found the most cynical seniors also had a higher risk of dying during that period. “This was entirely explained by behavioral factors (including smoking and alcohol consumption), self-reported health, and especially socioeconomic background,” they write.

In contrast, the higher rate of dementia was found when such variables were taken out of the equation. This suggests the mental disorder was not the result of bad health or heavy drinking.

The good news is the researchers found the moderately cynical were at no higher risk of dementia than the optimistic and trusting. So it’s OK to be at least a bit wary about the motivations of one’s fellow man.

But if these results hold up in other, larger studies, they point to a new way of combating an end-of-life disease that most everyone fears.

As Woody Allen learned in Manhattan: You have to have a little faith in people.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.

October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.

October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.

October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.

October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.

October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.

October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?

October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.

October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.

October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.

October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?

October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.

October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.

October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.

October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.

October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?

October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.

October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.

October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.

October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.

Follow us

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.