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Psychologists report surprising news for pessimists

By Tim Sandle     Dec 14, 2016 in Health
Glass half-full or half empty? While optimists and pessimists will respond to this tired cliché differently, when it comes to receiving bad news both personality types tend to respond similarly, according to a new study.
While people vary in their disposition to life, either shaped by their life experiences or genetic make-up, how most people respond to bad news tends to be similar irrespective of whether they might be classed as an optimist or a pessimist. Among the general population there tend to more people who call themselves optimist compared with pessimists.
This relates to a study undertaken by psychologists from University of California, Riverside. A team led by Professor Kate Sweeny surveyed individuals to determine if they were pessimists or optimists and then how they responded to bad news.
Aspects looked at included how students respond to forthcoming grades, such as tracking how students' predictions of their midterm grades become increasingly pessimistic the closer to the point when the outcome of their grades is published. In a second example, hospital patients become more certain that they have a horrible disease as the news from a medical test becomes closer. A third area looked at related to politics. With this, many voters became more pessimistic about their favored candidates' chances of winning the close to election day.
The outcome of the study was that, according to Professor Sweeny: “the tendency to brace for the worst is actually quite common.” This goes against the expectation that those of a more optimistic disposition can deal with such events more robustly. However, the findings suggest all people in general experience similar levels of anxiety.
The survey results were tested out in a laboratory, using students as subjects. In total nine studies were run and the students were exposed to different scenarios, such as waiting for feedback from peers. Prior to the study the students had been rated as either optimists or pessimists. The results found the expectations and anxiety levels were similar.
The research has been published in the Journal of Personality in a study headed “Even Optimists Get the Blues: Inter-Individual Consistency in the Tendency to Brace for the Worst.”
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