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Purpose in life and cognitive performance and informant ratings of cognitive decline, affect, and activities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2023

Angelina R. Sutin*
Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, USA
Martina Luchetti
Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, USA
Yannick Stephan
Euromov, University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France
Antonio Terracciano
Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, USA
Corresponding author: A. R. Sutin; Email:



To examine (1) the association between purpose in life and multiple domains of cognitive function and informant-rated cognitive decline, affect, and activities; (2) whether these associations are moderated by sociodemographic factors, cognitive impairment, or depression; (3) whether the associations are independent of other aspects of well-being and depressive symptoms.


As part of the 2016 Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol from the Health and Retirement Study, participants completed a battery of cognitive tests and nominated a knowledgeable informant to rate their cognitive decline, affect, and activities. Participants with information available on their purpose in life from the 2014/2016 Leave Behind Questionnaire were included in the analytic sample (N = 2,812).


Purpose in life was associated with better performance in every cognitive domain examined (episodic memory, speed-attention, visuospatial skills, language, numeric reasoning; median β =.10, p <.001; median d =.53). Purpose was likewise associated with informant-rated cognitive decline and informant-rated affective and activity profiles beneficial for cognitive health (median β =.18, p < .001; median d =.55). There was little evidence of moderation by sociodemographic or other factors (e.g., depression). Life satisfaction, optimism, positive affect, and mastery were generally associated with cognition. When tested simultaneously with each other and depressive symptoms, most dimensions were reduced to non-significance; purpose remained a significant predictor.


Purpose in life is associated with better performance across numerous domains of cognition and with emotional and behavioral patterns beneficial for cognitive health that are observable by knowledgeable others. These associations largely generalize across demographic and clinical groups and are independent of other aspects of well-being.

Research Article
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2023

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