Thursday, December 28, 2017

Does “Defensive Pessimism” Help or Hurt Law Student Academic Performance?

Defensive pessimism is a strategy in which anxious individuals set unrealistically low expectations (relative to their past performance) and reflect extensively on potential pitfalls to prepare for upcoming events. Students employing this strategy may anticipate problems that could arise with an upcoming performance and take steps to avoid those problems from happening.  

Is this strategy positively related to law students’ academic performance? According to a recent study, the answer is no. However, the study found a positive relationship between defensive pessimism and law students’ psychological distress:

 These findings, together with our findings regarding academic performance, suggest that academic performance alone cannot be used as a proxy for psychological distress. Some law students will experience psychological distress, but that distress will not be reflected in their academic performance. While defensive pessimism may be an adaptive strategy in that it facilitates the performance of anxious individuals, defensive pessimism may not be adaptive because by facilitating performance, it may impede the identification and treatment of law students who are in psychological distress.

You can access the study here. Emily Zimmerman & Casey LaDuke, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Defensive Pessimism in Legal Education, 66 Catholic University Law Review 823 (2017).


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