Isabelle’s Honor’s College Thesis Defense Preparations

Isabelle, the former lab manager of the FF-PTG lab, presented her Honor’s College thesis on the paradoxical nature of resilience, optimism, and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resilience is a familiar topic in the PTG lab being a person’s ability to easily return to a normal state after experiencing trauma. Instead of experiencing negative or positive outcomes, resilient individuals return to a typical baseline easily. Resilience can be positive, but having too much resilience can have several consequences, including being overconfident, an unhealthy tolerance of adversity, and unhealthy optimism. Previous research has also linked high resilience to learned helplessness. Optimism operates in a similar vein to resilience; having the right amount can be beneficial. Having too high or low levels of optimism can lead to negative outcomes with high optimism having impractical expectations, and low optimism leading to increased stress. Some research even suggests that lacking pessimism rather than having some optimism can be more beneficial to positive health outcomes.

Due to how recent the COVID-19 pandemic is, many of these variables have been unexplored in this specific context. Especially when considering potential paradoxes, which can be described as a seemingly contradictory relationship, between optimism, resilience, and anxiety. For example, individuals who have high optimism should not be experiencing high anxiety because of the fact that they are optimistic. Isabelle’s thesis data hope to observe these relationships and clarify some of these paradoxes. The study suffered some limitations which include high attrition; many respondents did not complete part 2 of the survey which removed the possibility of observing the relationships longitudinally. The sample also suffers from a lack of diversity. Isabelle hopes to rerun the study to gather longitudinal data after 2 years to see if these paradoxes still exist in the behaviors of those affected. She also hopes to examine whether differing experiences, such as those who had COVID or those who are and are not vaccinated could show differences in these relationships.

Isabelle was able to share her presentation at the ICE festival hosted by the Honor’s College at Oakland University. This was a chance for her to present her topic in front of many of her peers. We are proud of your accomplishments and cannot wait to see your next steps, Isabelle!

Recently, Isabelle successfully defended her thesis in front of friends, family, and faculty advisors. She demonstrated several paradoxes in the relationships between the core concepts and behaviors and attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic. One example includes the significant association with precautionary behaviors (i.e., wearing a mask) and health anxiety with some individuals expressing high health anxiety but low post behaviors. What made this project especially difficult was the lack of a scientific consensus on the definition of a “paradox” and only use of qualitative data in previous research. Isabelle hopes that future research can enlighten on what paradoxes in attitudes and behaviors can look like in the fields of psychopathology and healthcare and then into society through the use of empirical data. Excellent work Isabelle!

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