Pollyanna brain

It is easy to be cynical. You could easily look at the news and think the world consists only of liars, corrupt politicians, war, murderers, and thieves. Unfortunately, newsroom “wisdom” dictates that is what is news but it paints a consistently bleak picture of human nature. If you buy into that presentation then of course you will become cynical and you might think that is “realism” but new research shows that cynical outlook is actually bad for your brain.

In psychological terms cynicism is a belief that others are motivated by mainly selfish concerns. Since cynicism contains so many nuances of thought and attitude the opposite of cynicism could best be described as the “Pollyanna” view. In the book of the same name Pollyanna is a young girl who is unfailingly positive, optimistic, cheerful, trusting and who always looks for and sees the best in people and circumstances. How different is the life of a person who has a Pollyanna view compared to the person who sees through a veil of cynical distrust. To see what effect cynicism has on a person researchers conducted a long term study.

The researchers gathered 1,449 people with an average age of 71 and gave them tests for dementia and to establish their level of cynicism. The cynicism test has been proven to be stable for people over a number of years. In the test people are asked whether they agree with statements like “I think most people would lie to get ahead”, “It is safer to trust nobody”, and “Most people will use somewhat unfair means to gain profit or advantage rather than lose it”. Based on their results subjects were classified as low, moderate, or high in cynical distrust.

An average of eight years later a second test for dementia was given. Once they adjusted for dementia risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking it emerged that people with high levels of cynicism were three times more likely to develop dementia than those with low levels.

It illustrates that your view on life and your personality have definite impacts on your health. It might be easy, and it might be comfortable to sit back and distance yourself from the world with a weary cynicism but it’s not good for your brain. Why not be optimistic, cheerful, and trusting? Who cares if it’s a “fool’s paradise” you live in, it’s still paradise and your body, your brain, and your life will be better for it.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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