The Relationship of John Henryism With Cognitive Function and Decline in Older Black Adults

Psychosom Med. 2022 Sep 1;84(7):766-772. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001113. Epub 2022 Jul 28.


Objective: This study aimed to investigate the relationship between John Henryism, a psychological trait typified by high-effort active coping that has been associated with adverse health outcomes among Blacks, and cognitive decline.

Methods: In a cohort of community-dwelling older Black adults ( N = 611), we investigated the relationship between John Henryism and cognitive decline. John Henryism was measured using the John Henryism Active Coping Scale (JHACS), a nine-item validated measure of self-reported high-effort coping (mean [standard deviation] = 16.9 [4.8]; range, 4-27). We implemented a three-step modeling process using mixed-effects models to assess the relationship between the JHACS and global cognitive function as well as five cognitive domains. We adjusted for demographics and for factors known to be associated with cognitive function and decline including vascular risk factors, discrimination, and income.

Results: The trait of high-effort active coping was associated with lower-average cognitive function ( β = -0.07, 95% confidence interval = -0.10 to -0.03), but not with decline. The results remained after further adjustment for experiences of discrimination, income, and vascular risk factors. In domain-specific analyses, we found that the JHACS was associated with baseline levels of working memory, semantic memory, and visuospatial ability, but not decline.

Conclusions: These results highlight the importance of using culturally specific measures in considering the heterogeneity of cognitive health outcomes in minoritized populations. Understanding how stress responses relate to late-life cognition among older Black adults could help promote aspects of behavioral resilience along with healthful coping responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black People*
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Risk Factors