Cynical people have a higher risk of heart disease, and they may also be more likely to develop dementia, a new study finds.
It’s not clear why, but cynical people might have higher levels of inflammation — a known risk for many diseases — or perhaps different levels of stress-related hormones, the researchers say.
The findings, which the researchers caution are limited and must be replicated before people really can believe them, suggest a new route for helping prevent dementia — via counseling or therapy.
"These results add to the evidence that people's view on life and personality may have an impact on their health," said Anna-Maija Tolppanen of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, who led the study team.
The Finnish research team studied 622 people aged 65 to 79 for as long as 10 years. They took a battery of tests, including a well-validated test to show cynicism.
People who scored high on the cynicism test were more likely to develop dementia later. Of the 164 people with high levels of cynicism, 14 developed dementia. That’s 8 percent. Only nine out of 212 people with low levels of cynicism did or 4 percent.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study showing that higher levels of cynical distrust are associated with higher risk of dementia,” the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Neurology.
There were lots of confusing factors to account for. More cynical people weighed more, were older, had higher blood pressure and higher blood sugar. They also had less education and poorer self-reported health status.
But once these and other factors were accounted for, the cynical people were more likely to develop dementia.
It is possible that the very early symptoms of dementia include increased cynicism, the researchers said. But it is worth checking into more deeply.
A 2009 study found that women who scored high on tests of cynicism and hostility had higher rates of heart disease that women who scored the lowest. The factors involved may be similar.
Are you cynical?
Here’s the Cynical Distrust Scale test. Score 3 points if you completely agree with a statement, 2 points if you somewhat agree, 1 point if you somewhat agree and 0 points if you completely disagree. The higher the score, the more cynical your personality.
- I think most people would lie to get ahead.
- Most people are honest chiefly through fear of being caught.
- Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.
- I commonly wonder what hidden reasons another person may have for doing something nice to me.
- No one cares much what happens to you.
- It is safer to trust nobody.
- Most people make friends because friends are likely to be useful to them.
- Most people inwardly dislike putting themselves out to help other people.
First published May 28 2014, 7:48 AM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.