Defensive pessimism

Cognitive strategy for preparation / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Defensive pessimism is a cognitive strategy in which an individual sets a low expectation for their performance, regardless of how well they have done in the past. Individuals use defensive pessimism as a strategy to prepare for anxiety-provoking events or performances. 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.[1] Using this strategy, defensive pessimists can advantageously harness anxiety that might otherwise harm their performance.[2]

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 preventive actions both reduce anxiety and promote superior performance.

Defensive pessimism was identified by Nancy Cantor and her students in the mid-1980s.[3]