The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study administered cognitive function tests to more than 14,000 middle-aged adults in 1990-1992. The battery included the Delayed Word Recall test, the Digit Symbol Subtest of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised, and the Controlled Oral Word Association (Word Fluency) test. Test performance was correlated positively with education level, negatively with age, was better in women than in men, and better in managers/professionals compared with other occupations. After controlling for these factors, race and community, the findings most consistent for both sexes were that Delayed Word Recall was negatively associated with depressive symptoms, diabetes, and fibrinogen level; the Digit Symbol Subtest was associated with marital status, negatively associated with depressive symptoms, smoking status, fibrinogen level, and carotid intima-media thickness, and positively associated with alcohol drinking and FEV1; and the Word Fluency test was positively associated with marital status, alcohol drinking, sports participation, and FEV1. Most of these cross-sectional results were in the predicted direction and have biologic plausibility, but mean differences between extreme categories were small (generally on the order of 0.1 to 0.2 of a standard deviation). Longitudinal study is warranted to evaluate whether small differences in middle-age lead to larger, clinically meaningful deficits with aging.