New research from the University of California, Riverside suggests that worrying while waiting for potentially life-changing results can be good for us. The study, led by associate professor Kate Sweeny, Ph.D., investigated the effects worrying had on people’s emotional reactions to important results. The research involved 230 law school students who were taking the California bar exam in July 2013. The students completed questionnaires during the two week study period before the exam, detailing how anxious they felt about the exam; how often they thought about it; whether they felt confident about passing it or not; and if they had made attempts to distract themselves from the upcoming exam.
These questionnaires revealed three separate groups of people. The first involved students distracting themselves from the impending exam and pretending not to panic about it; a coping strategy I’m sure we’re all too aware of. A second group were found to look on the bright side of potential failure, thinking about other prospects, while a third group actively anticipated the possibility of failure. Researchers refer to this third category as ‘defensive pessimism’, as it involves preparing for the worst outcome and embracing the possibility of failure, whilst still hoping for the best.
The results of the bar exam were released four months after the students took the test, and 85 per cent passed. The 33 students who did not pass were questioned on their ability to accept their failure, whereas those who did were asked if they felt relieved. Those who had failed, but had spent the past four months worrying, were more likely to take productive action following the results, for example re-sitting the exam. This was different to the students who had not worried, as they were left in a state of denial and disbelief that they had not passed. Conversely, students who had passed, despite spending months in a state of panic, were happier and more pleasantly surprised when they discovered they’d passed than unworried students, who were left feeling underwhelmed. However it’s bad news for fans of procrastination though, as it was found that trying to distract themselves from worrying did not help to alleviate anxiety, instead often making them more anxious.
The results clearly show that worrying can aid the emotional consequences of failing an exam, or can help to make you feel happier that you’ve passed. However, excessive worrying and anxiety can make it harder to concentrate on a task. This has physical impacts, such as a lower immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses, so try not to worry too much! But with January exams on the way, maybe you’d better start worrying a little to have a better chance at coping when those results come your way.