To study the relationship between anxiety and pessimism versus optimism, researchers looked at the attitudes of over 600 college students before their exams. They had the students predict the grades they expected on their tests, finding that some students clearly displayed an optimism bias, while others displayed the opposite.
As the study authors write, “Individuals with elevated negative emotionality, a personality trait linked to the development of anxiety disorders, displayed a global pessimism and learning differences that impeded accurate expectations and predicted future anxiety symptoms.”
In other words, even when pessimists did better than they expected on their tests, they didn’t move forward with an updated perspective that their good grades could be replicated. Meanwhile, optimists did raise expectations of their grades based on their performance.
Then, when surveyed three years later, it was the pessimists who showed greater signs of anxiety. The study authors note this pessimism could be a coping mechanism to avoid disappointment, which is also a symptom of anxiety. “We hypothesize that a conditioned aversion to negative and unpredictable events would lead a person to develop a pessimistic and inaccurate model of the world, which may predict risk for anxiety,” the study authors add.