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Emotion. 2016 Feb;16(1):129-43. doi: 10.1037/emo0000117. Epub 2015 Oct 12.

Two definitions of waiting well.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.


Waiting for uncertain news is often distressing, at times even more distressing than facing bad news. The goal of this article was to investigate strategies for "waiting well" during these periods of uncertainty. Specifically, we propose 2 definitions of waiting well. First, people can wait in such a way as to ease their distress during the waiting period. Second, people could wait in such a way as to ease the pain of bad news or enhance the thrill of good news. We conducted a longitudinal study of law graduates (N = 230) awaiting their result on the California bar exam. Participants completed questionnaires prior to the exam, every 2 weeks during the 4-month waiting period, and shortly after learning whether they passed or failed. Cross-lagged models revealed that participants were quite unsuccessful at waiting well by our first definition. That is, their coping strategies were ineffective for reducing distress associated with uncertainty, apparently even backfiring in some cases. However, multiple regression analyses examining relationships between waiting experiences and responses to good and bad news found that many participants were successful at waiting well according to our second definition: Participants who suffered through a waiting period marked by anxiety, rumination, and pessimism responded more productively to bad news and more joyfully to good news, as compared with participants who suffered little during the wait. These findings substantiate the difficulty of enduring a stressful waiting period but suggest that this difficulty may pay off once the news arrives.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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