What is DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM? What does DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM mean? DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM meaning – DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM definition – DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM explanation.
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Defensive pessimism is a cognitive strategy identified by Nancy Cantor and her students in the mid-1980s. Individuals use defensive pessimism as a strategy to prepare for anxiety-provoking events or performances. When implementing defensive pessimism, individuals set low expectations for their performance, regardless of how well they have done in the past. Defensive pessimists then think through specific negative events and setbacks that could adversely influence their goal pursuits. By envisioning possible negative outcomes, defensive pessimists can take action to avoid or prepare for them. Using this strategy, defensive pessimists can advantageously harness anxiety that might otherwise harm their performance.
Defensive pessimism is utilized in a variety of domains, and public speaking provides a good example of the process involved in this strategy. Defensive pessimists could alleviate their anxiety over public speaking by imagining possible obstacles such as forgetting the speech, being thirsty, or staining their shirts before the event. Because defensive pessimists have thought of these problems, they can appropriately prepare to face the challenges ahead. The speaker could, for instance, create note cards with cues about the speech, place a cup of water on the podium to alleviate thirst, and bring a bleach pen to remove shirt stains. These preventative actions both reduce anxiety and promote superior performance.
Though defensive pessimists are less satisfied with their performances and rate themselves higher in “need for improvement,” they do not actually perform worse than people with a more optimistic strategy. Norem and Cantor (1986) investigated whether encouraging defensive pessimists, and thereby interfering with their typical negative thinking, would result in worse performances. Participants in the study were in either encouragement or non-encouragement scenarios as they prepared to complete anagram and puzzle tasks. In the encouragement condition, the defensive pessimists were told that, based on their GPA, they should expect to do well. Defensive pessimists performed worse when encouraged than the defensive pessimists whose strategy was not manipulated. Defensive pessimism is an adaptive strategy for those who struggle with anxiety: their performance decreases if they are unable to appropriately manage and counteract their anxiety.
Prefactual thinking is an essential component of defensive pessimism.
Prefactual thinking, synonymous with anticipation, describes a cognitive strategy in which people imagine possible outcomes of a future scenario. The imagined outcomes are either positive/desirable, negative/undesirable, or neutral. Prefactual thinking can be advantageous because it allows the individual to prepare for possible outcomes of a scenario.
For defensive pessimists, prefactual thinking offers the primary and critical method to alleviate anxiety. Usually, this prefactual thinking is paired with a pessimistic outlook, resulting in negative/undesirable imagined scenarios. With regard to the earlier example, the public speaking defensive pessimist anticipates forgetting the speech or becoming thirsty as opposed to giving an amazing speech and receiving a standing ovation.