Brown et al., 2016. Cognitive activity mediates the association between social activity and cognitive performance: A longitudinal study.


Social activity is one aspect of an active lifestyle and some evidence indicates it is related to preserved cognitive function in older adulthood. However, the potential mechanisms underlying this association remain unclear. We investigate 4 potential mediational pathways through which social activity may relate to cognitive performance. A multilevel structural equation modeling approach to mediation was used to investigate whether cognitive activity, physical activity, depressive symptoms, and vascular health conditions mediate the association between social activity and cognitive function in older adults. Using data from the Victoria Longitudinal Study, we tested 4 cognitive outcomes: fluency, episodic memory, reasoning, and vocabulary. Three important findings emerged. First, the association between social activity and all 4 domains of cognitive function was significantly mediated by cognitive activity at the within-person level. Second, we observed a significant indirect effect of social activity on all domains of cognitive function through cognitive activity at the between-person level. Third, we found a within-person indirect relationship of social activity with episodic memory performance through physical activity. For these older adults, engagement in social activities was related to participation in everyday cognitive activities and in turn to better cognitive performance. This pattern is consistent with the interpretation that a lifestyle of social engagement may benefit cognitive performance by providing opportunities or motivation to participate in supportive cognitively stimulating activities.