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Positive Psychosocial Factors and Cognition in Ethnically Diverse Older Adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 September 2017

Laura B. Zahodne*
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Caitlin W.-M. Watson
University of California, San Diego, California
Sonia Seehra
Columbia University, New York, New York
Michelle N. Martinez
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Laura B. Zahodne, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. E-mail:


Objectives: Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from largely non-Hispanic White cohorts suggests that positive psychosocial factors, particularly self-efficacy and social support, may protect against late-life cognitive decline. Identifying potentially protective factors in racial/ethnic minority elders is of high importance due to their increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The overall goal of this study was to characterize cross-sectional associations between positive psychosocial factors and cognitive domains among Black, Hispanic, and White older adults. Methods: A total of 548 older adults (41% Black, 28% Hispanic, 31% White) in the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project completed cognitive and psychosocial measures from the NIH Toolbox and standard neuropsychological tests. Multiple-group regressions were used to compare cross-sectional associations between positive psychosocial factors and cognition across racial/ethnic groups, independent of demographics, depressive symptoms, and physical health. Results: Positive associations between self-efficacy and language did not significantly differ across race/ethnicity, although the bivariate association between self-efficacy and language was not significant among Hispanics. Additional positive associations were observed for Whites and Blacks, but not Hispanics. Negative associations between emotional support and purpose in life and working memory were seen only in Hispanics. Conclusions: Results confirm and extend the link between self-efficacy and cognition in late life, particularly for White and Black older adults. Previous studies on positive psychosocial factors in cognitive aging may not be generalizable to Hispanics. Longitudinal follow-up is needed to determine whether negative relationships between certain psychosocial factors and cognition in Hispanics reflect reverse causation, threshold effects, and/or negative aspects of having a strong social network. (JINS, 2018, 24, 294–304)

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Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2017 

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