Psychologists from Finland have found that optimism about one’s future at a young age is associated with high levels of abstract thinking, and pessimistic views about the future at an older age are associated with low levels of memory. Authors of an article published in the journal Personality and Individual Differencescollected data from people aged 26 and 46 to compare the relationship between optimistic and pessimistic life expectations with cognitive abilities.
Dispositional optimism and pessimism reflect a person’s positive or negative expectations about their future. Research often links higher levels of optimism with positive characteristics – longer life expectancy and good sleep quality. But pessimism is more often associated with negative aspects of life, such as alcohol dependence and negative character traits.
The development and maintenance of a high level of cognitive function is influenced by various factors of life, including nutrition, psycho-emotional state and the environment. In particular, research suggests that optimism is associated with different types of thinking and working memory, but how pessimism and optimism relate to cognitive abilities at different ages is not yet fully understood.
Finnish psychologists led by Jutta Karhu of the University of Oulu conducted a study to examine the relationship between optimism and pessimism and cognitive abilities. To do this, they invited two groups of participants in a national longitudinal study to complete questionnaires and complete tasks related to cognitive abilities. The first group included 383 people from 25 to 27 years old, and the second group 5042 people 46 years old.
All participants completed a Dispositional Optimism Questionnaire, which asked them to rate statements about their views on the future, and the tasks on cognitive abilities for the groups were different. Young people took tasks on abstract thinking and verbal abilities from the Wechsler test, as well as the Strupa test and additional tests for fluency, motor skills, response inhibition and memory. Participants from the senior group performed only a memory test.
The results of correlation analysis in both groups showed a link between a higher level of dispositional optimism and a higher level of education and a lower level of depression. Pessimism correlated with the opposite.
The association of these constructs with cognitive abilities varied between groups. For young people, higher scores of pessimism corresponded to lower scores on abstract thinking, motor skills and vocabulary. High optimism in this group correlated only with indicators of abstract thinking. In the older group, dispositional optimism was associated with a higher level of mother’s education and a high score in the memory task, and pessimism was inversely correlated with both parameters. Multiple regression confirmed the relationship between pessimism and low levels of abstract thinking in young people (p = 0.001) and low memory in the senior group of participantsp = 0.034) in the final model.
Thus, the authors found that young optimists have higher rates of abstract thinking as the ability to reason, identify patterns and solve abstract problems, and pessimists in old age – lower rates of memory.
Since cognitive abilities play a significant role in the life of an adult, scientists are looking for factors that contribute to their healthy development in childhood. For example, American researchers have found a link between the duration of breastfeeding and general abilities, while the authors noted the lack of such a link with executive functions and memory. But a group of Chilean scientists have shown that music lessons improve children’s memory.