CHRONIC SELF-DOUBTERS LIKELY TO FACE WIDE RANGE OF PROBLEMS, STUDY FINDS
COLUMBUS, Ohio--People who chronically doubt their judgments lead psychologically impoverished lives in a variety of ways, a new study suggests.
Such individuals often feel anxious, are prone to sadness and mood swings, and are likely to procrastinate and avoid thinking about difficult problems.
“People who are dubious about their judgment are highly vulnerable,” said Herbert Mirels, primary author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “They see every important decision they make as a trial in which they are likely to find themselves deficient or to be found deficient by others.”
As a result, self-doubters put off making important decisions and often ask others for advice. Such passivity alleviates their anxiety in the short term, but in the long run it contributes to their feelings of uncertainty.
“Self-doubt would appear to feed on itself,” Mirels said. “You don’t trust your own judgment. You are hesitant and dependent on others. This makes you accomplish less, confirming your poor self-confidence.”
Mirels and his colleagues developed the Judgmental Self-Doubt Scale, a questionnaire that measures the extent to which a person experiences doubt about his or her own judgment. The researchers tested the questionnaire in several related studies that revealed a disturbing psychological portrait of chronic self-doubters.
People who score high on the measure tend to see decision making as an onerous activity. They report that they change their minds often, and when they finally make a decision, they are concerned that it was the wrong one, Mirels said. He noted that people who are chronically self-doubtful tend not to enjoy tasks that require effortful thinking and, as a result, try to avoid such tasks. However, the researchers found that self-doubters did not differ from others in their level of intellectual ability, as measured by an intelligence test.
Mirels collaborated on the study with Paul Greblo, a former graduate student in the clinical psychology program at Ohio State, and with Janet Dean, a current graduate student. Their findings appear in a recent issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
In one study, the researchers administered the judgmental self-doubt questionnaire to 105 Ohio State students. They also used other measures that examined various personality traits and dispositions. They found that people who scored high on self-doubt also had low self-esteem, chronic anxiety, higher levels of depression, and a tendency to procrastinate.
The same study also found that self-doubt is related to emotional volatility. Students with high scores on judgmental self-doubt reported having more mood swings than those with low scores. The results suggest that people who doubt their own judgment appear to be less “centered” and therefore react especially strongly to both positive and negative events, Mirels said. Thus, getting a bad grade is likely to have a stronger negative influence on self-doubters’ moods than on the moods of their more confident classmates.
“Being self-doubtful is akin to being in a boat without an anchor and being pulled by the current,” said Mirels. And indeed, students with high scores in judgmental self-doubt reported feeling they have little control over their lives and feel uncertain about the causes of important life events.
The researchers noted that being high in self-doubt does not imply doubting oneself all the time. In one study, they found that with easy decisions, self-doubters reported as much confidence in their choices as anyone else. As the decisions became more difficult, however, self-doubters’ confidence declined rapidly.
Chronic self-doubters tend to doubt their judgment in a wide variety
of decision areas, the researchers found. In one study, those who scored
high on self-doubt were less confident of their answers when they were
asked to estimate various statistics – such as the divorce rate – and
when they were asked to make judgments about ethical dilemmas and societal
issues such as gun control. “It appears that these people are unsure
of their own judgment in a wide range of matters,” Mirels said.
He emphasized that judgmental self-doubt should not be confused with
the healthy tendency to consider important information carefully and