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Even Optimists Get the Blues: Interindividual Consistency in the Tendency to Brace for the Worst


  • The authors wish to thank Sara E. Andrews and Michael D. Dooley for contributing data to this effort.



The present research examined whether the tendency to brace for the worst by becoming pessimistic as news approaches varies across people, namely, people who differ in their trait-like outlooks on the future (dispositional optimism, defensive pessimism).


Across nine studies in laboratory and field settings, we examined the roles of dispositional optimism and defensive pessimism in the propensity to brace for the worst when awaiting uncertain news. The studies used a variety of paradigms, including predictions about performance on the bar exam, peer ratings of attractiveness, and feedback on an intelligence test. Results: Results from these studies consistently failed to support individual differences in the tendency to brace for the worst.


Trait-like differences in future outlooks seem to influence only the level and not trajectories of outcome predictions, pointing to relative commonalities in the development of the tendency to brace for the worst.