In Brief

Those who constantly doubt their own judgment are especially prone to a wide range of psychological problems--such as mood swings, lower self-esteem, anxiety and depression--according to a new study in Personality and Individual Differences (Vol. 33, No. 5).

In five studies involving more than 700 college students, principal investigator and Ohio State University psychology professor Herbert L. Mirels, PhD, and researchers Paul Greblo and Janet B. Dean developed the Judgmental Self-Doubt Scale to measure judgmental self-doubt and the consequences of having a poor opinion of one's own judgment.

Self-doubters, compared with more judgmentally confident peers, expressed more discomfort with uncertainty and a greater need for the approval of others, according to the study. They also had lower self-esteem and higher degrees of anxiety, depression and procrastination.

Self-doubters might be more susceptible to depression because they often feel life is out of their control, Mirels says. Lacking confidence in one's own decisions can also cause apprehension about possibly making a wrong decision or one that meets with others' disapproval.

"High self-doubters, because they give diminished weight to their own interpretations and perspectives, are, so to speak, not well 'centered,'" Mirels says. "We believe that this is why they are prone to having their moods buffeted about by changes in their immediate circumstances." However, high self-doubters were not found to differ from others on a measure of intelligence.

In one study, high self-doubters showed low confidence in a variety of judgments they were asked to make about moral and societal dilemmas, such as whether to grant a dying woman's request for a lethal dose of a painkiller or whether a waiting period should be imposed on handgun sales. The differences in confidence between high and low self-doubters increased when judgments became more difficult.

While the purpose of the study was not to determine the kinds of experiences that influence the development of chronic self-doubt, Mirels speculates that the way a person's judgments and decisions were regarded as a child most likely has an effect.

"It seems like a good idea to give children the sense that their opinions, even when unreasonable, are heard and not rejected reflexively," Mirels says.

--M. DITTMANN