According to a new study published in Neurology, there is a greater chance of developing dementia when an individual possesses an attitude of cynical distrust; a general belief that people are primarily selfish, untrustworthy and not out for the good of the community. Many psychologists classify cynicism as chronic anger that takes time to develop. There have been other health issues, like heart disease, linked with high levels of cynical thoughts as well. This study is the first to look for linkages between dementia and cynicism.
The study was conducted at the University of Eastern Finland at Kuopio and Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Ph.D., was the author. She said that the results can be added to the mounting evidence that proves an individual’s personal philosophies can impact their health. She goes on to say that it is important to gain a better understanding of personality traits, particularly negative ones like cynicism. If they can affect risks for dementia, science needs some insights into how best to reduce those risks.
There were 1,449 subjects for the study, with an average age of 71. They were first screened for dementia. Then, the subjects filled out a questionnaire regarding levels of cynicism. They read statements such as, “It is safer to trust nobody,” and something akin to “lying to get ahead in life is done by most people.” The subjects were asked to score how strong their agreement was with each statement.
Resulting scores were placed in groups by how high, moderate or low the cynical distrust levels were. Among the subjects tested, 622 were screened twice for dementia. The second time was approximately eight years after the start of the study and during that time, 46 subjects developed dementia.
Adjustments were made to account for various factors that may have affected the risk of dementia, such as smoking, high cholesterol and blood pressure. Those results demonstrated that the subjects with higher levels of cynicism were three times as likely to develop dementia than the subjects with lower levels of cynicism. A total of 164 subjects were scored as possessing high levels of cynical distrust and 14 of them developed dementia. Compare that to 212 subjects with low levels of cynicism, nine of whom developed the disorder.
The researchers also wanted to know if individuals with cynical distrust are more liable to die sooner than an individual with less cynical distrust. They included 1,146 of the subjects in this segment of the study. Of those studied, 361 passed away during the length of the follow-up, which was approximately 10 years. At first, it seemed as though there was a direct link between early death and cynical distrust. However, the findings turned out to not be conclusive, which was due to the researchers accounting for variables like, smoking, socioeconomic and health status.
At the University of Pittsburgh, an assistant professor of medicine, Dr. Hilary Tindle said that she sees patients every day who demonstrate the direct connection between psychological attitudes and physical health. She went on to say that over the course of time, highly cynical people, who also display high levels of hostility, fare worse health-wise.
Though many researchers say the “why” of these outcomes is complex and not yet fully understood, many laypeople can tell them why. Science often likes to treat the physical and psychological as two separate things, but they are not. People have one body, housing both. They are inextricably intertwined. Of course a sour attitude of the mind will manifest itself in the physical. The person who goes through life cynically distrusting everyone they encounter should, perhaps, count on developing disorders, like dementia, and count themselves lucky if they do not.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy