Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Kirby, Kathleen M.

Author's Keywords

Defensive pessimism; Explanatory style; Expectations; Academic performance; University students; Attribution


Academic achievement--Psychological aspects; College students--Psychology


Researchers have studied the concepts of optimism and pessimism as traits, expectations, strategies, and styles of explaining outcomes. Explanatory style and the strategy of defensive pessimism are two of these areas. In general, optimistic explanatory style has been associated with better outcomes including academic performance. Some studies have found that pessimistic explanatory style has been associated with better academic outcomes. One suggestion in the literature was that defensive pessimism might explain the cases where pessimistic explanatory style is associated with better academic outcomes. To evaluate this explanation, the Academic Attributional Style Questionnaire (AASQ, Revised Defensive Pessimism Questionnaire (DPQ), and Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) were administered to 188 undergraduate and graduate students from five colleges and universities. Measures of academic achievement included official course and exam grade as reported by the instructor as well as self-reported GPA. There were no differences in academic performance between groups that made more pessimistic explanations and those who made more optimistic explanations. There were no differences within the group of those with more pessimistic explanatory styles regardless of level of use of defensive pessimism. Explanatory style was associated with expectations for course grade. There were no differences on outcome expectations or efficacy between defensive pessimists and low exam scorers. Defensive pessimism was associated with multiple psychological symptoms as measured by the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). Further investigation to determine if encouraging a strategy defensive pessimism in those with more pessimistic explanatory styles would lead to improved performance. More research needs to be devoted to the study of the relationships among explanatory style, defensive pessimism, and expectations.