For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Higher mental stimulation at work is associated with improved cognitive functioning in both young and older workers"

by Marquie, J C; Duarte, L Rico; Bessières, P; Dalm, C; Gentil, C; Ruidavets, J B (2010)


The study examined whether mental stimulation received in the workplace positively affects cognitive functioning and rate of cognitive change. Data taken from the VISAT (ageing, health and work) longitudinal study concerned 3237 workers who were seen three times (in 1996, 2001 and 2006) and who were aged between 32 and 62 years at baseline. Measures of cognitive stimulation both at work and outside work were available at baseline. Cognitive efficiency was assessed on the three occasions through episodic verbal memory, attention and processing speed tests. Greater cognitive stimulation (at work and outside work) was associated with higher levels of cognitive functioning and a more favourable change over the 10-year follow-up. These results were obtained after adjustment for age, education, sex and a variety of medical, physical and psychosocial confounders. The study thus supports the hypothesis that exposure to jobs that are mentally demanding and that offer learning opportunities increases the level of cognitive functioning and possibly attenuates age-related decline. STATEMENT OF RELEVANCE: The effect of occupational activity on cognitive functioning is under-researched. This paper reports results from a substantive longitudinal study, with findings indicating that exposure to jobs that are mentally demanding are beneficial in increasing levels of cognitive functioning and possibly attenuating age-related decline.

Key Passage

In the literature on occupational psychology and ergonomics, jobs involving poor cognitive activities have often been suspected of generating some forms of cognitive decline. This idea of a possible detrimental (or favourable) effect of the job on the worker’s psychological functioning, even on basic cognitive processes, has long been formulated in human and social sciences (e.g. Friedman 1964). Although this idea is both appealing and popular, there has so far been little empirical evidence to support it, from the viewpoint of impact on cognition. One exception is the study by Schooler et al. (1999, see also Kohn and Schooler 1978), which provides direct evidence in favour of the hypothesis that cognitive (or mental) stimulation at work yields beneficial effects on adult cognitive development. These authors found a relationship between intellectual functioning and the cognitive complexity of the work environment. Their findings suggest that substantively complex work significantly increases intellectual flexibility. (p.1287)


Cognitive Decline, Cognitive Development, Psychological Development, Personality, Stimulating Work, Engaging Work, Challenging Work


Psychological Centrality of Work

Links to Reference



How to contribute.