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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2011 Jul;66 Suppl 1:i141-52. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbq091. Epub 2010 Dec 31.

Histories of social engagement and adult cognition: midlife in the U.S. study.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA. tseeman@mednet.ucla.edu



To evaluate whether social contacts, support, and social strain/conflict are related to executive function and memory abilities in middle-age and older adults.


Longitudinal data on social contacts, support, and strain/conflict were examined in relation to executive function and memory at ages 35-85 years using data from the national Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS) study. Age-related differences in patterns of association were also examined.


Regression analyses, controlling for age, sex, race, education, chronic health conditions, and health behaviors, revealed significant positive associations between histories of greater social contacts and support and both executive function and episodic memory, whereas declines in social contacts were negatively associated with both outcomes. Greater average reported frequency of social exchanges characterized by strain or conflict was negatively associated with executive function but not episodic memory. Patterns were generally consistent across different age groups; where differences were seen, associations were stronger in younger age group.


Positive and negative aspects of social relationships are related to cognition throughout adulthood, consistent with the hypothesis that social factors have life-long influences on cognition. Positive and negative aspects of social engagement may thus be important factors to consider in relation to efforts to promote optimal cognitive development and cognitive aging.

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