Adolescents with slower processing speeds and longer reaction times were at a greater risk of anxiety and depression later in life, according to Catharine R. Gale, Ph.D., of the University of Southampton (England) and her associates.

In this 20-year study of 705 males and females, longer reaction time at 16 years indicated a small but significant association with poorer mental health at age 36.

Adjusting for sex, parental social class, General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) score at age 16 years, health behaviors at age 36 years, and allostatic load had little effect on the association between reaction time and the GHQ score, but the association was weakened with Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) scores for both anxiety and depression. Smoking had a mediating effect on the HADS anxiety score, but not on the depression subscale.

“Further prospective studies of the relation between reaction time and mental health outcomes in other samples are needed to gauge whether reaction time is a true risk factor for mental disorders and to confirm the mediating roles played by smoking and allostatic load,” the investigators noted.

Find the full study in Psychosomatic Medicine (doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000189).