Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

June 1, 2014

Research presented in a recent edition of the journal Neurology, suggests that people who are more cynical have a higher likelihood of developing dementia.

Other studies have identified relationships between cynicism and poor health.  This appears to be the first piece of research to examine dementia and negative outlook.   It supports other work that identified a correlation between being open and optimistic with having a low rate of dementia.

Cynicism and skepticism are forms of mistrust.  In an evolutionary sense, you can see how being skeptical could be helpful to self-preservation.  Despite that, studies have shown a link between being cynical and dying earlier.  Psychologists categorize cynicism as a form of chronic anger.

Within this recent study, the authors examined the degree to which participants express doubt about what people say and believe that most individuals are driven by self-interest.

They examined nearly 1500 seniors with an average age slightly above 70.   They administered two different tests to establish their level of dementia and the degree to which they viewed the world cynically.   As an example, cynicism is measured with questions such as: “Most people will not tell the truth if it means they will get ahead.”    Those who scored the highest degree of cynicism were 250 percent more likely to show signs of dementia.

This is an interesting study that opens the door to new lines of questioning.  It does not prove that having a stinky attitude leads to bad health.  That would need to be established with additional research.

It’s a balancing act.  We can’t and should not trust everything people tell us.  But there is probably a difference between skepticism that arises because “things don’t make sense” and we suspect someone’s understanding of the facts may be faulty, and a mistrust that stems from the notion that “no one tells the truth.”   Winston Churchill was quoted as saying “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”  Absent evidence to the contrary, it seems like a good way to go.






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