Higher optimism has been linked with health, well‐being, and cognitive functioning. Spouses also play an important role on people's health, especially in older adulthood. Yet, whether a spouse's optimism is associated with an individual's cognitive functioning is understudied. Thus, we examined this question.
Participants were 4,457 heterosexual couples (N = 8,914; Mage = 66.73, SD = 9.67) from the Health and Retirement Study—a large, diverse, prospective, and nationally representative sample of U.S. adults aged > 50. Optimism was assessed at baseline (t1) and cognition was measured every two years with up to five repeated assessments of cognition data over the eight‐year follow‐up period (t1; t2; t3; t4; t5).
Results from multi‐level dyadic data analyses showed small but positive associations between actor optimism and actor cognitive functioning (memory: r = 0.16, mental status =0.10), as well as partner optimism and actor cognitive functioning (memory: r = 0.04, mental status = 0.03). These associations mostly persisted over time.
Possessing higher optimism, and also having a partner with higher optimism, were both associated with higher cognitive functioning. Thus, with further research, optimism (at both the individual and couple level) might emerge as an innovative intervention target that helps adults maintain cognitive functioning as they age.