Distinguishing defensive pessimism from depression: Negative expectations and positive coping mechanisms

Abstract

Anticipatory thoughts and feelings of defensively pessimistic and moderately depressed college students were compared in order to identify factors that distinguish effective strategies of negative thinking from those that may be maladaptive. Three components of anticipatory strategies — expectations, anxiety, and extent of preparation — were assessed at three times over the course of stressful social situations in the subjects' own lives. Defensive pessimists were similar to the moderately depressed subjects in that they reported negative expectations and high levels of anxiety before their events occurred. However, defensive pessimists (like optimists) did not share the depressed subjects' avoidant ways of coping. Although there were no apparent differences in the severity of the situations described by defensive pessimists and depressed subjects, only depressed subjects experienced residual anxiety and rumination after their events were over. Effective preparation before situations occur and nonavoidant ways of coping seem to distinguish the defensive pessimists' negative strategy from that of moderately depressed persons.

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Correspondence to Carolin Showers.

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Showers, C., Ruben, C. Distinguishing defensive pessimism from depression: Negative expectations and positive coping mechanisms. Cogn Ther Res 14, 385–399 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01172934

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Key words

  • pessimism
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • coping
  • negative expectations