Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Defensive Pessimism

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1061-1


The construct is a cognitive strategy employed to manage anxiety generated in the anticipation of stressful events. The strategy enables users to defend against the impact of failure on their self-worth because they lower their performance expectations to an unrealistic level. In everyday language, these individuals simply don’t get their hopes up.


The term defensive pessimism(DP) was first used in the 1980s by Nancy Cantor and Julie Norem, who were conducting experiments with undergraduate students performing stressful laboratory tasks such as anagrams, math problems, and puzzle tracing. Defensive pessimists were simultaneously motivated by desire to avoid failure and motivation to achieve success. Using the strategy of defensive pessimism enabled them to manage their anxiety and increase perceptions of control. The construct is considered most germane to performance domains where systematic relationships exist among anxiety, effort, and outcomes. Research in...


Reflective Process Dispositional Optimism Preventive Health Behavior Good Internal Consistency Reliability Severe Acute Respiratory Distress 
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of NursingUniversity of Tennessee, KnoxvilleKnoxvilleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Beth A. Visser
    • 1
  1. 1.Lakehead UniversityOrilliaCanada