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05-30 Study suggests hostility in youth causes cognition problems in later life

Study suggests hostility in youth causes cognition problems in later life
The teenage years are a stressful time that can leave some young adults with a short fuse. Fortunately, most teens tend to mellow out as they age. Those who retain their hostile personality traits into their later years run the risk of behavioral health problems. According to a recently published study, young people who have poor stress management and who display hostility are more prone to cognition and memory problem as they get older.

Study parameters

Lenore J. Launer, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health, authored the study. Over 3,000 subjects participated. The study began when the participants were in their 20s (the average age was 25). Participants were given a series questions that assessed cognition and hostility. The questions also assessed how the participants responded to stressful situations. Participants were retested after 25 years. The average age at retest was 50.

Launer notes subjects who recorded the highest levels of the behavior traits when they were assessed at 25 performed poorly compared to individuals with lower levels. For example, adult subjects were given a list of 15 words to remember. Those who recorded high levels as young adults remembered 0.16 fewer words than subjects who recorded lower levels at age 25. Young adults who tested high for poor stress management remembered 0.30 fewer words as adults than their peers who exhibited better stress management abilities as young adults.

According to Launer, the study adjusted for factors such as depression and traumatic events, which had no effect on the findings. When adjusting for cardiovascular illnesses such as diabetes, the effect of hostility on thinking skills became slightly less pronounced.

Launer concedes the study was observational. She cannot definitively cite a relationship between hostility and cognition difficulties. She says, “If this link is found in other studies, it will be important to understand whether these personality traits are amenable to change that would lead to interventions that promote positive social interactions and coping skills to see if they could play a role in reducing people’s risk for memory and thinking problems in middle age.”

Other issues correlated with aggression

A 2012 study found young people raised in stressful family environments are more prone to cardiovascular and other health problems as adults. Specifically, the research found individuals raised in these environments have greater difficulty in bouncing back physically and emotionally from stressful situations. Another corollary of this study is individuals reared in dysfunctional households characterized by stress and aggression are more apt to display aggression and maladaptive behaviors later in life.

Sovereign Health Group’s Adolescent Program in Rancho San Diego specializes in treating young people with behavioral issues. Our oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) program relies heavily on peer-to-peer interaction. Research has shown young people relate more to people their own age than to adults. In addition to peer-to-peer therapy, our clinicians work on improving communication and interpersonal skills. Please contact our 24/7 helpline to find out more about ODD and the numerous other behavioral health conditions we treat.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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