The maintenance of effective cognitive functioning across the lifespan is a crucial component of an individual's ability to function independently, and may play an even greater role during stressful economic times. In this project we will administer a telephone battery to examine cognition in a diverse national sample on key domains, including episodic memory, working memory span, executive function, reasoning, speed, and attention switching. We will add a new Refresher sample to augment the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study sample with 2100 new participants, ages 25-54, and 500 African Americans from Milwaukee.
In Aim 1 we will examine the effects of the economic recession and socioeconomic status by comparing the new sample with the MIDUS II sample. We will integrate data across the five projects of the overall program to examine the relationship between cognitive performance and a wide variety of biopsychosocial variables assessed before and after the economic recession. We will examine whether effective cognitive functioning serves as a resource for resilience in the face of stressful life experiences, such as economic adversity. Those with higher levels of cognitive abilities are expected to show better emotion regulation and less reactivity to stress.
In Aim 2 we will collect longitudinal data on the cognitive measures for MIDUS III, 9-10 years after the MIDUS II assesment. Our goal is to determine factors that serve a protective role for good mental abilities, as well as those factors that serve as risk factors for poor cognitive performance. We predict that cumulative advantage (including advanced education, good physical and mental health status, adaptive health behaviors such as physical and cognitive activity, low stress reactivity, and a strong sense of mastery and control) will be associated with maintenance of cognition, and will serve as a protective buffer against poor performance and decline in middle-age and later life. We will examine modifiable psychosocial and behavioral factors (e.g., social engagement, support) that may moderate and mediate the effects of sociodemographic factors (SES) and stress on cognitive declines, with the goals of identifying those at greatest risk and gathering evidence to design appropriate interventions.

Public Health Relevance

Good memory and reasoning are critical for maintaining health, well-being, and independence (e.g., making financial and health decisions). Understanding the sociodemographic, psychosocial and behavioral pathways to adaptive cognitive functioning can help to identify strategies for reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors during adult development and to slow or prevent aging-related cognitive declines.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Program Projects (P01)
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University of Wisconsin Madison
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