A study finds that optimism and pessimism are associated with cognitive abilities

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Previous work shows that optimism promotes good general well-being outcomes, while pessimism is associated with health risks. For the first time, researchers have studied the associations between optimism and pessimism and cognitive abilities in adulthood. They concluded that higher optimism and lower pessimism are associated with higher reasoning skills in young adults, and higher pessimism is related to lower memory test scores in middle-aged older adults.

Dispositional optimism and pessimism are defined as personality traits characterized by tendencies to expect positive or negative outcomes in life. Studies in psychology and social sciences show that there is a correlation between dispositional affect (positive and negative) and aspects such as personality, decision-making, negotiation, psychological resilience, and coping with stressful life events. Additionally, optimism is said to be beneficial to health and well-being, while pessimism is associated with health risks.

Other studies, based on intellectual investment theories, also show that certain personality traits affect the development of cognitive abilities. For example, an optimistic person will be driven to solve more problems, spending more time and effort in learning and cognitively challenging situations. ” Joy drives an individual to play, create new ideas, and push boundaries, which supports intellectual and creative abilities. Finnish researchers report. ” In contrast, negative emotionality reduces the individual’s repertoire of thoughts and actions to prepare him or her to make quick decisions in a threatening situation. “.

Link between optimism, pessimism and cognitive abilities: a first in adults

Malgré the previous research results, but the studies are stuck on the link between optimism and pessimism dispositions of one part, and the cognitive skills that tell reasoning, problem solving, verbal skills and memory from elsewhere. This is the first study conducted on population-based samples of adults: three studies have previously looked at this correlation in adolescents.

The researchers conducted two tests at different ages: the first on a sample of 383 26-year-old participants (probably having reached a relatively stable level of cognitive abilities), and the second on 5,042 46-year-old participants. In the first test, seven skills were analyzed with respect to optimism or pessimism: reasoning, vocabulary, verbal fluency, fine motor skills, selective attention, impulse control and memory. In the second, only memory was taken into account. Confounding variables such as gender, participants’ education level, mother’s education level, and depression were included in the analysis so as not to alter the results.

Among 26-year-olds, the results of this study showed that higher dispositional optimism was consistently associated with lower dispositional pessimism, lower depression, higher levels of education, and higher scores on reasoning tests. In contrast, higher dispositional pessimism was correlated with lower educational attainment, higher depression, and lower scores on reasoning, vocabulary richness, and motor skills.

Pessimism is associated with lower scores on memory tests in middle-aged adults

Similar results were found for 46-year-olds, in whom higher dispositional optimism was moderately correlated with lower dispositional pessimism and lower depression. Higher dispositional optimism is also correlated with higher educational level and higher memory score, and opposite results have been reported for dispositional pessimism.

The link was stronger between pessimism and poor memory scores than between optimism and better memory scores. ” It should be noted that, in our study, the association of higher pessimism and lower memory was only seen in 46-year-olds, not in 26-year-olds. “, add the researchers. ” This finding may indicate that the association is age-dependent and appears when cognitive aging began, which can occur as early as middle age. “.

In general, stronger associations have been reported between pessimism and cognitive abilities than between optimism and cognitive abilities. ” This observation supports the idea that optimism and pessimism should be analyzed as separate variables and not as a single dimension. Optimism and pessimism have different genetic influences and different associations with two brain hemispheres, and thus may have distinct qualities that may go unnoticed if not examined separately. “In addition, the number of tests performed was too different between adults aged 26 and 46 to allow a comparative analysis, and the research also does not offer evidence of cause and effect.

Furthermore, the association between optimism and reasoning disappeared when the 26-year-old participant’s educational level was controlled for, meaning that education is an important factor in passing or failing tests of cognitive ability. Similarly, when the factor is isolated, depression negatively influences these same tests.

Source: Personality and Individual Differences

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