How Cynicism Hurts Your Brain

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Questioning people’s true intentions is healthy when it comes to telemarketers or politicians, but keep that skepticism up with friends and family and your brain might pay the price: People with high levels of cynical distrust may be more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study in Neurology. [Tweet this news!]

When researchers from Finland and Sweden questioned participants over a decade, those who continually answered with high levels of cynicism—consistently believing others were motivated by selfish concerns—were more likely to develop dementia, independent of other risk factors. And that incessant doubt can harm more than just your mind: Previous studies have shown cynics have higher levels of inflammation and a greater risk of heart disease.

“Negative emotions are a form of stress that taxes the body,” says psychologist Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D., author of Crazy: Notes on and off the Couch. When the mind is consistently negative, the stress aggravates parts of your body, like the immune system, which then has fewer reserves to maintain a healthy state, he explains.

So if your gut tells you to question the intentions of everyone you meet, is Alzheimer’s in your future? It’s less likely if you can break your skeptical cycle: “Cynicism is often the ‘default’ mode, and we tend to seek out and process information that supports what we believe,” says Dobrenski. That means if you think your attention-seeking friend is trying to steal your birthday spotlight, you’ll find proof to support this.

But viewing doubt as a hypothesis—which can be tested and proven wrong—instead of a fact can help you reprogram, he adds. Few people act exclusively in their own interest, so try and see their words and actions with that in mind. Looking for the best in someone can be just as self-fulfilling as looking for the worst.

What do you think about this study? Do you tend to assume the worst? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine

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