The Michigan Daily

Thursday, September 23, 1999

Lecture links pessimism to dangerous behaviors

By Jeremy W. Peters
Daily Staff Reporter
The Michigan Daily

Award-winning psychology Prof. Christopher Peterson spoke yesterday at a free luncheon in the Michigan Union in an effort to bring awareness to trauma and its causes among young people, particularly those of college age.

The lecture, titled "Catastrophes and Catastrophizing: Why Bad Things Happen to Pessimistic People," examined the relationship between risk takers and their incidents of personal injury.

"Trauma deserves more attention than it's had in the past because of the sheer number of people involved," Peterson said, adding that, "trauma is the third leading cause of death in the U.S."

Peterson defined trauma as a staggering injury - emotional or physical.

He also noted that males between the ages 18 and 30 make up the majority of trauma patients. Peterson attributes this to the lifestyle some young males choose to lead.

"Often times," he said, "these young men are depressed, fatigued or stressed ... I am moved by the number of teens who are exposed to trauma." Peterson said 13 percent of teenagers have witnessed a killing.

From his research, Peterson has concluded that the young men who participate in high-risk activities and experience trauma as a result are often pessimistic.

Pessimism, he found, can be linked to depression, poor health and even untimely death. Peterson said the reason why pessimistic young men participate in such dangerous or risky activities as contact sports, playing with guns and drunk driving is to escape a bad mood.

"Pessimistic males often partake in high risk activities and end up getting hurt, whereas pessimistic females will stay home and eat a tub of ice cream in order to cheer up," Peterson said.

One of Peterson's students, LSA sophomore and self-proclaimed pessimist Andrew Pytiak, said he agrees with the professor's conclusions.

"When I'm stressed the first thing I do is light up a cigarette," Pytiak said. "It's like a form of rebellion because I know I'm not supposed to be doing it."

He finds that this particular form of risk taking eases his mind.

"I don't do it consciously, but perhaps sub-consciously when I'm angry risk taking is an outlet," Pytiak added.

Through his research Peterson also found that pessimistic people often "catastrophize," or in layman's terms, magnify unimportant issues.

Catastrophizing "is thinking you're a loser if you can't find a parking spot," he said.

Through his research, Peterson hopes to help these overly negative people break their pessimism and to help those who exhibit trauma causing behavior.

Peterson's lecture was the first in a series presented by Mortar Board, an honor society for University seniors.

E. Royster Harper, interim vice president for student affairs, said the idea of the lectures is "to expose students to award-winning faculty."

Mortar Board will offer faculty lectures along with free lunches throughout the semester.

©1999 The Michigan Daily