Young adults with hostile attitudes or those who don’t cope well with stress may be at increased risk for experiencing memory and thinking problems decades later, according to a study published in the March 2, 2016, online issue of Neurology.
“We may not think of our personality traits as having any bearing on how well we think or remember things, but we found that the effect of having a hostile attitude and poor coping skills on thinking ability was similar to the effect of more than a decade of aging,” said study author Lenore J. Launer, PhD, with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study, 3,126 people were asked questions that measured their personalities and attitudes, ability to cope with stress, and memory and thinking abilities at the start of the study when they were an average age of 25. Cognitive abilities were measured again when they were an average age of 50.
To measure hostility, the questions about personality assessed aggressive behavior, a lack of trust for others and negative feelings associated with social relationships. Another question looked at effortful coping, which was defined as actively trying to reduce stress despite repeated barriers to success. For the analysis, participants were divided into four groups based on their level of hostility and effortful coping.
The study found that for both personality traits, people with the highest levels of the traits performed significantly worse on tests of thinking and memory skills 25 years later than people with the lowest levels of the traits. For example, on a test that asks people to recall a list of 15 words, people with the most hostility in young adulthood remembered 0.16 fewer words in mid-life than people with the least hostility. Those with the highest level of effortful coping remembered up to 0.30 fewer words than those with the lowest level of effortful coping.
The results were the same when the researchers adjusted for factors such as depression, negative life events and discrimination. When researchers adjusted for cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the results stayed the same for the coping trait but the relationship between hostility and thinking skills was reduced.
Launer noted that the study is observational. It does not prove that hostile attitudes and poor coping skills cause memory and thinking impairment; it only shows the association.
“If this link is found in other studies, it will be important to understand whether these personality traits are amenable to change that would lead to interventions that promote positive social interactions and coping skills to see if they could play a role in reducing people’s risk for memory and thinking problems in middle age,” she said.
About this neuroscience research
Funding: The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota, Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging.
Source: Rachel Seroka – AAN Image Credit: The image is in the public domain. Original Research:Abstract for “Hostile attitudes and effortful coping in young adulthood predict cognition 25 years later” by Emiliano Albanese, Karen A. Matthews, Julia Zhang, David R. Jacobs, Jr, Rachel A. Whitmer, Virginia G. Wadley, Kristine Yaffe, Stephen Sidney, and Lenore J. Launer in Neurology. Published online March 2 2016 doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000002517
Hostile attitudes and effortful coping in young adulthood predict cognition 25 years later
Objective: We studied the relation of early-life (mean age 25 years) and mid-life (mean age 50 years) cognitive function to early measures of hostile attitudes and effortful coping.
Methods: In 3,126 black and white men and women (born in 1955–1968) from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA), we used linear regression to examine the association of hostile attitudes (Cook-Medley questionnaire) and effortful coping assessed at baseline (1985–1986) to cognitive ability measured in 1987 and to a composite cognitive Z score of tests of verbal memory, psychomotor speed, and executive function ascertained in midlife (2010–2011).
Results: Baseline hostility and effortful coping were prospectively associated with lower cognitive function 25 years later, controlling for age, sex, race, education, long-term exposure to depression, discrimination, negative life events, and baseline cognitive ability. Compared to the lowest quartile, those in the highest quartile of hostility performed 0.21 SD units lower (95% confidence interval [CI] −0.39, −0.02). Those in the highest quartile of effortful coping performed 0.30 SD units lower (95% CI −0.48, −0.12) compared to those in the lowest quartile. Further adjustment for cumulative exposure to cardiovascular risk factors attenuated the association with the cognitive composite Z score for hostility.
Conclusions: Worse cognition in midlife was independently associated with 2 psychological characteristics measured in young adulthood. This suggests that interventions that promote positive social interactions may have a role in reducing risk of late-age cognitive impairment.
“Hostile attitudes and effortful coping in young adulthood predict cognition 25 years later” by Emiliano Albanese, Karen A. Matthews, Julia Zhang, David R. Jacobs, Jr, Rachel A. Whitmer, Virginia G. Wadley, Kristine Yaffe, Stephen Sidney, and Lenore J. Launer in Neurology. Published online March 2 2016 doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000002517