Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

dementia-puzzle-concept

(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 PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

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