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Defensive Pessimism, Anxiety, and the Complexity of Evaluating Self-Regulation



Defensive pessimism is a motivated cognitive strategy that helps people manage their anxiety and pursue their goals. Individuals who use defensive pessimism set low expectations, and play through extensive mental simulations of possible outcomes as they prepare for goal-relevant tasks and situations. Research on a variety of phenomena, from self-handicapping to stereotype threat, demonstrates the potential effectiveness of defensive pessimism as a self-regulation strategy. Review of this research provides an illustration of the complexity of self-regulation efforts, because understanding how and why defensive pessimism works requires an integrated understanding the role of traits, motivations, and self structures within the individual, the resultant goals toward which strategies are directed, and the particular constraints of different situations and cultural contexts.