How Cynical Personality Traits Affect Dementia Risk

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Cynicism has already been linked with worse physical health, but what is it doing to the brain?

People with high levels of cynicism are more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study published in the medical journal Neurology (Neuvonen et al., 2014).

It’s already been found that those who believe others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns — the definition of cynical distrust — have worse physical health; for example, cynicism has been linked to heart disease.

Now you can add dementia to the list.

In the study, conducted in Finland, 1,449 people were given tests of their cynicism that included questions like:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead.”
  • “It is safer to trust nobody.”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”

The more people endorsed these statements, the stronger their cynical distrust was deemed to be.

They were also given tests of dementia and other factors that might affect their risk of developing dementia later on, like smoking and high cholesterol levels.

Eight years later, people were tested again to see if they had developed any symptoms of dementia.

Forty-six people had, and in that group, people who were high on cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than those low on that measure.

One of the study’s authors, Anna-Maija Tolppanen, PhD, said:

“These results add to the evidence that people’s view on life and personality may have an impact on their health.

Understanding how a personality trait like cynicism affects risk for dementia might provide us with important insights on how to reduce risks for dementia.”

Image credit: Daniela Vladimirova

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 29 May 2014

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