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Risk Perception and Danger
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Interference with Effective Performance
We now have to examine how the perception or the misperception of inadequate
coping resources leads to anxieties. The key factor in maintaining stability
in a presumably risky activity seems to be whether one has confidence that one
can proceed without incurring an unacceptable risk. A person who seriously questions
his or her ability to perform adequately or safely begins to experience inhibitions and
The danger signals are triggered, and inhibitory pressures build
up to discourage further movement into what one client termed the "danger
zone." Anxiety, in this instance, is an unpleasant signal to stop forward
progress. If your client stops or retreats, as you know, his or her anxiety decreases.
If he advances, it increases. If he makes a conscious decision to proceed, he
may be able to override the inhibiting anxiety.
The role of an inhibiting
system may be viewed as a safety or precautionary mechanism, which is brought
into play when there is a clear and present physical or interpersonal danger.
The role of the inhibition is to curb or slow down action that can jeopardize safety. As long as your client is confident of being able to negotiate the task,
the mechanism remains inoperative. As soon as his or her confidence wanes, the
inhibiting mechanism is activated.
Thus, there is a tug-of-war
between advance... stop... go slow... and pull back. If your client proceeds skillfully
and maintains his or her balance, he or she may remain cool. However, as soon
as your client sees an unexpected trouble spot and is not certain whether or how
he or she can handle it, they are likely to experience physical as well as psychological
restraint. Which brings us to the function of dysfunctional behavior.
The "Function" of Dysfunctional Behaviors
The triggering of a
self-protection mechanism is determined by your client's estimation of the
amount of damage that will result if he or she performs inadequately. For example, the
child, Bobby, tries to make good grades to prevent his parents' pending separation.
There is an interesting relationship between estimated magnitude of damage and
the expectation of poor performance: that is, the more drastic the consequences
of poor performance, the more poorly an individual expects to perform. Thus, the
more the parents argue, the lower the child's school performance.
child's reaction to a threat may be best understood in terms of a global perception
of self-confidence. This construct refers to a constellation of attitudes involving Bobby's positive estimation of his instrumental capabilities and his
belief in the ability to exercise them. Low self-confidence implies that the child
has a low rating of his instrumental capacity and a negative expectation of success.
♦ 4 Questions Regarding Self-Confidence
The issue of self-confidence raises several questions:
factors lower (or raise) self-confidence?
2. How does lowered self-confidence
translate to impeded performance?
3. What psychological and physical mechanisms
lead to poor performance?
4. What function is served by lowered self-confidence
and the resulting deterioration of performance?
Of the factors affecting
self-confidence in the presence of the degree of threat, I have already
suggested that severity and probability of possible failure have a negative correlation
with self-confidence. Thus, the prospect of a divorce will reduce confidence more
than will the prospect of the parents staying together and still arguing.
On the other hand, the presence of a support system that the child
can grasp as his anxiety increases may increase self-confidence. This safety feature
provides a back-up system should the child go into freeze mode. But how does evaluation
anxiety fit into this picture?
---The Evaluation Anxieties
of Evaluation Anxieties
---Before the Fall
A client entering a socially-threatening situation is like someone walking a tightrope. He or she feels vulnerable
to a serious mishap if his or her performance is not adequate. For safety's sake, the client must conform to a rigid set of rules regarding appropriate actions and movements
-- in the case of our example, Bobby's grades.
The greater Bobby's confidence
in his skill, the less likely he or she is to make a potentially fatal misstep, perform
poorly on a test and receive a low grade. If his anxiety takes over, his performance
may be sabotaged by freezing. Thus, this situation is a test of Bobby's ability
and maturity. Smooth performance reaffirms his image of himself and maintains
his favored status in his parents' eyes. Failure would shatter this image, and
from his point of view, causes further arguments and ends in possible divorce.
♦ 3 Common Features of Evaluative Threats
There are certain commonalities
among the various situations in which an individual may experience "evaluation
anxiety." According to Greenberg these evaluation threat situations
can be grouped as follows:
1. Social situations: initiating or
maintaining a person-to-person relationship; participating in a social gathering
(for example, a party);
2. A school or vocational situation: performance
evaluated by a teacher (as in the case of Bobby), supervisor, or peer group,
taking a test or examination, confrontation with a supervisor over a conflict
of interest, athletic competition;
3. Transactions in the "outside
world" while shopping or traveling, with salespersons, waiters or waitresses,
taxi drivers, or strangers.
♦ 7 Factors that May Aggravate
A complex web of factors in these situations
may aggravate or create fears and anxiety. These factors involve the question
of evaluation and vulnerability and include the following:
1. Therelative status of the individual and the evaluator in the area of power
and social desirability;
2. The individual's skill in presenting
an attractive or effective "front;"
3. His or her confidence
in their ability to perform adequately in a given threat situation;
4. The client's appraisal of the degree of threat, of the severity of potential damage
and the probability of its occurring;
5. The threshold of certain
automatic "defenses" (verbal inhibition, blockage of recall,
suppression of spontaneity) that can undermine individual performance;
6. The rigidity and attainability of the "rules" relevant
to acceptable performance, behavior, and appearance;
7. The anticipated
punitiveness of the evaluator for nonadherence to rules or substandard performance,
and so on.
♦ 6 Assessment Questions for Your Stress Reactions
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
The individual who is anxious on entering into an evaluative situation has a network
of implicit questions. For example, let's look at your reaction or anxiety concerning
this home study course. You may have had the following thoughts:
what degree is this a test of my competence or acceptability? How much
do I have to prove to myself or others?"
2. "What is my status relative to that of my evaluators?" If the individual feels
parity with or superior to the evaluator, then the rules are less narrow and more
flexible and the prospective "punishment" for failure is less important.
3. "How important is it to establish a position of strength
about relative power status (as in dealing with service personnel) or a position
of acceptability in dealing with social evaluators (as in blind dates or speaking
before an audience)?"
4. "What is the attitude of
the evaluator? Is he or she accepting and empathetic, or rejecting and aloof? Are his or her
judgments likely to be objective, or harsh and punitive?"
what degree can I count on my skills (such as verbal fluency) to carry
6. "What is the likelihood of my being
undermined by distracting anxiety and inhibitions?"
Dillard, A. J., Ferrer, R. A., Ubel, P. A., & Fagerlin, A. (2012). Risk perception measures' associations with behavior intentions, affect, and cognition following colon cancer screening messages. Health Psychology, 31(1), 106–113.
Hedman, E., Lekander, M., Karshikoff, B., Ljótsson, B., Axelsson, E., & Axelsson, J. (2016). Health anxiety in a disease-avoidance framework: Investigation of anxiety, disgust and disease perception in response to sickness cues. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125(7), 868–878.
Notebaert, L., Masschelein, S., Wright, B., & MacLeod, C. (2016). To risk or not to risk: Anxiety and the calibration between risk perception and danger mitigation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42(6), 985–995.
The question of self-confidence raises what question? To select and enter
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