Reaction Time and Mortality from the Major Causes of Death: The NHANES-III Study

Objective

Studies examining the relation of information processing speed, as measured by reaction time, with mortality are scarce. We explored these associations in a representative sample of the US population.

Methods

Participants were 5,134 adults (2,342 men) aged 20–59 years from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988–94).

Results

Adjusted for age, sex, and ethnic minority status, a 1 SD slower reaction time was associated with a raised risk of mortality from all-causes (HR = 1.25, 95% CI 1.12, 1.39) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) (HR = 1.36, 95% CI 1.17, 1.58). Having 1 SD more variable reaction time was also associated with greater risk of all-cause (HR = 1.36, 95% CI 1.19, 1.55) and CVD (HR = 1.50, 95% CI 1.33, 1.70) mortality. No associations were observed for cancer mortality. The magnitude of the relationships was comparable in size to established risk factors in this dataset, such as smoking.

Interpretation

Alongside better-established risk factors, reaction time is associated with increased risk of premature death and cardiovascular disease. It is a candidate risk factor for all-cause and cause-specific mortality.