Genes versus lifestyles: Exploring beliefs about the determinants of cognitive ageing

Malwina Niechcial, Eleftheria Vaportzis, Alan J. Gow

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Abstract

Genetic and lifestyle factors contribute to cognitive ageing. However, the extent to which the public attribute changes in thinking skills to either genetic or lifestyle factors is largely unknown. This may be important if it impacts engagement in activities deemed beneficial to thinking skills. This study, therefore, explored people’s beliefs about determinants of cognitive ageing and whether those beliefs were associated with engagement in potentially beneficial behaviours. Data were collected through a United Kingdom-wide survey of people aged 40 and over. Participants completed questions about their beliefs regarding cognitive ageing, and specifically the extent to which they believed lifestyle or genetic factors influence those changes, and their engagement in specific behaviours that may be cognitively beneficial. Responses from 3,130 individuals (94.0% of the survey sample) were analysed using chi-square tests of independence, principal component analysis and ANCOVAs to investigate whether their attribution of genetic or lifestyle determinants were associated with their beliefs about cognitive ageing and their participation in brain health-related behaviours. Most respondents (62.2%) believed genes and lifestyle contribute equally to age-related changes in cognitive skills. Respondents who believed genetic factors were more influential were less likely to expect cognitive skills might be improved or maintained with age, less sure what behaviours might be associated with brain health, and less likely to engage in behaviours comprising mental challenge/novelty supported as beneficial for brain health. From this United Kingdom-wide survey about beliefs regarding potential determinants of cognitive ageing, some of our respondents’ views were not aligned with the findings from ageing research. It is important for the public to know how to keep their brains healthy. Our results indicate a need for clearer messaging highlighting the role of lifestyle factors for brain health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number838323
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • activities
  • attribution
  • brain health
  • cognitive skills
  • survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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