Cynical Beliefs Linked to Lower Earnings, Poorer Health

Olga Stavrova

Olga Stavrova

People who hold cynical beliefs about human nature and the world have lower incomes than those with a more optimistic view, found University of Cologne’s Olga Stavrova and Daniel Ehlebracht.

Cynical beliefs are measured by statements including:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead,”
  • “It’s safer to trust nobody,”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”
Daniel Ehlebracht

Daniel Ehlebracht

People who agree with these ideas may avoid cooperation, trust and collaboration with others and while focusing on monitoring, control, and preventing potential exploitation.

Volunteers who endorsed these self-protective behaviors and cynical beliefs reported lower personal income than people who demonstrate greater trust and interpersonal collaboration in studies using a representative sample of Americans between 1986 and 2012, and replicated with a representative German group between 2003 and 2012.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

A related study showed that income-suppressing cynical beliefs are not associated with enduring personality characteristic measured by Robert McCrae of NIH and Paul Costa’s Big Five personality dimensions.

In addition, lower earnings were not explained by cynical individuals’ poorer health, lower education, and greater agreement with items that measure neuroticism and introversion.

Paul Costa

Paul Costa

However, some cynical beliefs are justified by the local environment, such as in counties with low levels of charitable giving, high homicide rates and high overall societal cynicism levels.
Survey data from 41 countries showed that people in these contexts who held cynical beliefs did not have lower personal income than those with more optimistic views.

Anna-Maija Tolppanen

Anna-Maija Tolppanen

Holding cynical beliefs about people was also associated with greater risk of dementia and death among the elderly in a study over 8 to 10 years, according to University of Eastern Finland’s Elisa NeuvonenMinna Rusanen, Anna-Maija Tolppanen, collaborating with Alina Solomon of University of Kuopio, Flinders University’s Tiina Laatikainen, with Tiia Ngandu of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, Hilkka Soininen of Hospital District of North Karelia, and Kuopio University Hospital’s Miia Kivipelto.

Alina Solomon

Alina Solomon

The team measured cynical distrust with the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale (CMHS) by University of Minnesota’s Walter Cook and Donald Medley, and cognitive status using screening, clinical phase, and differential diagnosis using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for more than 1450 people.

People with highest level of cynical distrust had higher risk of dementia after the researchers controlled for confounding factors including:

  • Age,
  • Gender,
  • Systolic blood pressure,
  • Total cholesterol,
  • Fasting glucose,
  • Body mass index,
  • Socioeconomic background,
  • Smoking,
  • Alcohol use,
  • Self-reported health,
  • Apolipoprotein E (APOE).
Tiina Laatikainen

Tiina Laatikainen

People with highest levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism, even when Neuvonen’s team controlled for effects of dementia risk, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

Tiia Ngandu

Tiia Ngandu

This finding supports suggestions that people who are more open and optimistic have a lower risk for dementia.

Hilary Tindle

Hilary Tindle

In related findings, positive expectations about the future, and trait optimism were associated with reduced rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) and mortality in postmenopausal women, reported University of Pittsburgh’s Hilary A. Tindle, Yue-Fang Chang, Lewis H. Kuller, Greg J. Siegle, Karen A. Matthews, collaborating with Harvard’s JoAnn E. Manson, Jennifer G. Robinson of University of Iowa, and University of Massachusetts’ Milagros C. Rosal.

Michael Scheier

Michael Scheier

More than 97,250 white and black women with no signs of cancer and cardiovascular disease completed the Life Orientation Test–Revised (LOT-R) by Carnegie Mellon’s Michael Scheier and Charles Carver of University of Miami, plus the Cook Medley Questionnaire’s cynicism subscale.

Charles Carver

Charles Carver

Women who scored in the top quartile for optimism had lower age-adjusted rates of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and total mortality.
Black women with this optimistic perspective also had significantly less cancer-related mortality.

In contrast, those who scored in the top quartile for cynical hostility had significantly higher rates of CHD and total mortality, reinforcing the value of cultivating a positive viewpoint.

Hilkka Soininen

Hilkka Soininen

Likewise, individuals with the highest cynical distrust measured by Cook-Medley Hostility Scale had higher risk of dementia after adjusting for confounding factors including socioeconomic position, lifestyle, alcohol use, and health status, found Neuvonen’s team.

Financial, physical, and cognitive well-being can be enhanced by cultivating optimism and trust and reducing cynicism.

-*How do you increase and sustain optimism, trust, and collaboration?

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4 thoughts on “Cynical Beliefs Linked to Lower Earnings, Poorer Health

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Gary W. Kelly wrote:
    This is a good summary of multiple articles that make the point–beliefs and values matter. Thanks for posting.

    Kathryn Welds responded:
    Thanks, Gary, for your response, and for the reminder that thoughts influence behaviors and life outcomes.

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Dr. Hendrie Weisinger wrote:
    Check out Dr. Welds’ blog; she also presents interesting and relevant information that is academically solid. It is a great resource.

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks so much, Dr. Weisinger, for the vote of confidence.
    For definitive resources on #pressure, #anger #criticism #emotional_intelligence, please check Dr. Weissinger’s blog @

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Debbie Ruston wrote:
    Fully agree, negativity breeds negativity.

    Tracey DeLeeuw added:
    Conversely, positivity makes most things better – even negative people!

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks, Debbie and Tracey, for your observations that echo findings about “emotional contagion” in groups. For further thoughts about contagious emotions at work: “Emotional Contagion” in the Workplace through Social Observation, Social Media –

  4. kathrynwelds Post author

    Martine Dinh wrote:

    Very interesting! Thank you very much for sharing. Sure, negativity if permanent drags everybody around down. What struck me is that the link with income is not true for every country!

    Kathryn Welds replied:

    Thanks for your comment, Martine.
    As you mention, income was not reduced when people held cynical beliefs that were justified by their contexts.
    However, holding cynical beliefs has other equally important effects: potential for serious medical conditions like coronary heart disease and dementia.
    Fortunately, people have shown resourceful ways of moving out of cynicism-provoking situations, and cultivating more optimistic perspectives.


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