hostility memory
Hostile people are more likely to suffer from memory loss when they grow old. Istock

Hostility towards others and difficulties to cope with stress in young adults may lead to weakened cognitive functions in later life. This is the conclusion of a study published in Neurology, which followed 3126 black and white men and women, between 1985 and 2011.

The participants were part of Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA), a cohort of individuals born between 1955 and 1968, whose first goal is to help scientists better understand the determinants of cardiovascular disease.

For this particular study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health looked at different psychological traits in the participants, in 1985-86, when they were in their twenties. They assessed their ability to cope with stress and whether they were prone to hostile attitudes. The scientists then divided the participants into four groups, depending on their level of coping and hostility.

Lower results on tests

stress memory
Not coping with stress is also associated to a risk of weakened cognitive function Istock

In 2010 and 2011, when the study subjects reached their mid-life, they were given different memory, psychomotor speed and executive function tests to complete. The two groups which had the highest level of hostility or the lowest resilience to stress were the ones that performed worse.

Those who had trouble coping with stress scored 0.30 units lower in the tests than those who had the least trouble. The most hostile individuals scored 0.20 units less than the least hostile.

Though they admit these findings only indicate an association, and do not prove that hostile attitudes and poor coping abilities lead to weakened cognitive functions, they say coming up with strategies to reduce such psychological traits is important.

Lower cognitive skills is associated to a variety of health problems, from cognitive decline, to verbal memory loss or even Alzheimer's, as individuals become older. Therefore, the researchers believe these findings should be taken into account when assessing the health of young adults.

Promoting positive social interactions may have a positive impact on long term health. reducing the risks of cognitive impairments in mid and later life.