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Positive outlook is associated with better cognitive function

The core outcome from the new research is that those who class themselves as enthusiastic and cheerful (a ‘positive affect’), are among those who are less likely to experience cognitive issues as they become older. Specifically, those who are happier as associated with lower rates of memory decline as they age.

To arrive at the conclusions, the research team, from Northwestern University, considered a large data set drawn from 991 middle-aged and older U.S. adults. The individuals were members of a U.S.-based study. Specific data points were collected across three time periods and then analysed. The time points selected were: 1995 to 1996; 2004 to 2006; and 2013 to 2014.

At each time point, the participants were asked to assess themselves in terms of a set of positive emotions. The emotional responses were drawn from different things that each person had experienced across the most recent 30 day period. For the last two assessments, each individual was asked to undertake different tests into memory performance. These tests required the study participants to recall an array of words both immediately after an instructor had presented them, and also after 15 minutes had elapsed.

The data across the two-decade period enabled researchers to explore the association between positive outlooks and any signs of memory decline. The data was normalized to take into account the factors of age, gender, education, depression, negative affect, and extraversion.

The analysis showed that memory,, unsurprisingly, declined. What was of greater interest was with those people who were assessed as having a more positive outlook were shown to have a slower rate of memory decline as they aged. This higher rate of cognitive function was consistent over the course of ten years.

There is a growing body of research looking into how positive thought is associated with different health outcomes.

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science. The peer reviewed paper is titled “Positive Affect Is Associated With Less Memory Decline: Evidence From a 9-Year Longitudinal Study.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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