Cynical? You Could Be Hurting Your Brain

Medically reviewed in November 2021

We've all met them: that certain someone you just can't trust. Maybe you wonder about the car dealer's motives, or if your coworker’s telling the truth when she calls in sick—again. That kind of skepticism is natural and even healthy. But according to a study out of Finland, people with high levels of cynical distrust—when they feel the world is out to get them—may be more likely to develop dementia.

Your brain on cynicism
Studies have linked cynical distrust—the belief that others are driven by selfish motives—to heart disease, cancer and other health problems, said study author Anna-Maija Tolppanen, PhD. That's why she and other researchers from the University of Eastern Finland were interested to see if this personality trait would also be a risk factor for dementia.

In their study, 622 people took dementia tests and a personality questionnaire two times about eight years apart. The average age of participants at the beginning of the study was 71. The questionnaire asked people how much they agreed with such statements as: "I think most people would lie to get ahead" and "Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it." The researchers found that people with high levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than those with low levels. Three times the risk is nothing to sneer at!

In general, dementia affects older adults with hallmark symptoms of memory loss and problems with language and reasoning. As more people are living into their 70s, 80s and 90s, there's an increased need to better understand, prevent and treat this progressive brain disease. "Our results suggest that we might also want to account for personality factors when planning prevention strategies," said Dr. Tolppanen.

What can you do?
It's never too early to start planning for a healthier, happier golden years. Here are some simple tips:

  • Try optimism on for size. Even dyed-in-the-wool pessimists can learn to be more realistically positive.
  • Exercise your brain. "The better your brain, the better your personality," says psychiatrist and brain expert Daniel Amen, MD. "By boosting brain function, we can make people happier, more positive and focused." You’ll not only stay sharp, you’ll reduce stress, improve your mood, prevent emotional eating and more.
  • Take a walk. Exercise helps improve the memory center in your brain and helps lift your mood. Plus, physical activity can help fight obesity, heart disease and diabetes—other risk factors for dementia. Learn how exercise can give you an instant mood boost.
  • Eat right to think right. The journey to being happier and protecting brain health starts with learning which foods are good and bad for your brain. Try feeding your noggin with these delicious recipes for better brain health.

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