Category: Adult Anxiety
Positive expectancies for the future provide an important pathway to the development of mental health and resilience against the development of mental illness. Generalized expectancies in the form of optimism beliefs and positive expectancies regarding personal agency (i.e., hope) have both been shown to predict higher levels of mental health and lower levels of mental illness. Previous research, however, has often been limited by the failure to establish the incremental effects of hope and optimism and the reliance on cross-sectional designs. Therefore, the present study attempted to improve our understanding of how positive expectancies relate to mental health by longitudinally examining the unique effects of hope and optimism on anxiety and potential mechanisms of the effects of hope and optimism.
Participants were 137 undergraduates that were screened using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to ensure that participants were experiencing moderate to high levels of anxiety. Hope and optimism were assessed at the baseline assessment. Participants then completed measures of anxiety, perceived emotional control, and experiential avoidance once a week for a period of four weeks. Multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM) was then used to examine 1) whether hope and optimism uniquely predicted the longitudinal course of anxiety, and 2) whether the effects of hope and optimism were sequentially mediated by perceived control and experiential avoidance.
Preliminary results indicated that hope and optimism were consistently associated with lower levels of anxiety and experiential avoidance and higher levels of perceived control (all rs > .35) across all four waves of assessment. Results of the MSEM demonstrated that hope and optimism both have robust effects on the longitudinal course of anxiety, and that hope and optimism both uniquely predicted perceived emotional control and experiential avoidance across time. Finally, results of the MSEM analyses indicated that that the effects of hope (ab = -.21; se = .076; 95% CI -.06 : -.36) and optimism (ab = -.27; se = .078; 95% CI -.12 : -.42) on anxiety were both sequentially mediated by perceived control and experiential avoidance.
Although optimistic and agentic beliefs have long been proposed to provide a buffer against anxiety (e.g., Bandura, 1977), there have been relatively few attempts to conduct the longitudinal research necessary to adequately test this hypothesis. The present study therefore improves our understanding of how hope and optimism can uniquely contribute to resilience to the development of anxiety by demonstrating that the effects of hope and optimism on anxiety are independent and robust across time. Furthermore, the findings help to clarify the mechanisms by which hope and optimism confer resilience by demonstrating that both hope and optimism indirectly influence anxiety by promoting greater perceptions of emotional control, which in turn leads to decreased experiential avoidance. Replicating these findings across longer time periods and within the context of treatments for anxiety disorders represent important future directions for understanding the protective effects of positive expectancies for the future.
Matthew Gallagher– Assistant Professor, University of Houston