Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Bruce Rybarczyk

Second Advisor

Briana Mezuk

Third Advisor

Paul Perrin


Background. Research identifies isolation (being alone) as a risk factor for cognitive decline— yet it is possible that subjective dimensions of isolation are more critical. Potential risk factors are loneliness (the distress stemming from feeling alone) and cynical hostility (an attitude of distrust and cynicism). The present study examined the relationship between these factors and cognitive functioning and decline.

Methods. Data came from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative longitudinal study of US adults over 50. Loneliness was measured using the Hughes Loneliness Scale; cynical hostility was measured using items from the Cook-Medley Hostility Inventory. Cognitive functioning was indexed by the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status. Regressions were conducted to examine loneliness and cynical hostility as predictors of cognitive function at baseline as well as cognitive decline over four and six-year periods. Models were adjusted for demographic characteristics, health behaviors, and isolation. Results. Loneliness, [f2=.003, t(52)=-3.75; p<.001] and cynical hostility, [f2=.002, t(52)=-2.98, p=.004] predicted cognitive function at baseline. Loneliness and cynical hostility each predicted cognitive decline over four [f2=.001, t(52)=-2.29; p=.026 f2=.003, t(52)=-3.98; p<.001 respectively] but not six years [t(52)= -.78; p=.439; t(52)= -1.29; p=.203 respectively].

Discussion. Loneliness and cynical hostility are correlates of lower cognitive function and risk factors for cognitive decline over four years. The absence of significant effects of loneliness and cynical hostility over six years could be attributed to low statistical power in these analyses. The effect sizes in this study are small, yet meaningful in the context of the personal and social costs associated with cognitive decline.


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