I’ve been criticized, by many close to me, that I am too naïve, too trusting of people. Once, for example, when returning from Ireland, I had a stop-over in Montréal for a few hours. There I was approached by another Irishman, “Canada is a rotten country and I can’t wait to get the hell out of here back to Ireland. You can’t get ahead here. They don’t give you a break.”
At first I wondered why he had singled me out until I realized I was carrying a Dublin Airport duty-free bag with a bottle of whiskey in. All he needed was $350 to get them back to Ireland. I told him that my credit card was already checked in my luggage. “You can get it retrieved.” The ticket agent did retrieve my case and I withdrew the $350 from a bank machine. He carefully took my address and promised me that he would send me the money as soon as he got back to Ireland.
This story has regaled my friends and has branded me as naïve. Regrettably, it has made me less trusting and less open to those who ask me for help. Moreover, I fear that this growing distrust may be damaging to my health, as the following study suggests:
People with high levels of cynical distrust may be more likely to develop dementia, according to a study published in the May 28, 2014, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Cynical distrust, which is defined as the belief that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns, has been associated with other health problems, such as heart disease. This is the first study to look at the relationship between cynicism and dementia.
“These results add to the evidence that people’s view on life and personality may have an impact on their health,” said study author Anna-Maija Tolppanen, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. “Understanding how a personality trait like cynicism affects risk for dementia might provide us with important insights on how to reduce risks for dementia.”
For the study, 1,449 people with an average age of 71 were given tests for dementia and a questionnaire to measure their level of cynicism. The questionnaire has been shown to be reliable, and people’s scores tend to remain stable over periods of several years. People are asked how much they agree with statements such as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “It is safer to trust nobody” and “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.” Based on their scores, participants were grouped in low, moderate and high levels of cynical distrust.
A total of 622 people completed two tests for dementia, with the last one an average of eight years after the study started. During that time, 46 people were diagnosed with dementia. Once researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, people with high levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism. Of the 164 people with high levels of cynicism, 14 people developed dementia, compared to nine of the 212 people with low levels of cynicism.
The study also looked at whether people with high levels of cynicism were more likely to die sooner than people with low levels of cynicism. There was no longer any link between cynicism and earlier death.
How trusting are you? Will you become more trusting?
Striving to be more trusting,
John Mary Meagher MD
- Elisa Neuvonen, Minna Rusanen, Alina Solomon, Tiia Ngandu, Tiina Laatikainen, Hilkka Soininen, Miia Kivipelto, and Anna-Maija Tolppanen.Late-life cynical distrust, risk of incident dementia, and mortality in a population-based cohort. Neurology, 2014 DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000000528
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