Young people often find themselves in physical activity settings that emphasize social comparison and foster uncertainty of performance success. This tenuous situation increases the potential of projecting self-deprecatory images to significant others including teachers, parents, and classmates. Such images convey negative, self-referent information such as inadequate ability, insufficient fitness levels, and lack of mental fortitude. The psychological distress experienced during this evaluated performance is largely a result of one's motivation to create and maintain a self-effacing impression on others (Leary, 1992, 1995).
In order to minimize the psychological stress associated with performing poorly on an ability-referent task, some individuals systematically employ self-protective strategies prior to performance. The act of self-handicapping involves the positing of claimed or behavioral barriers to performance that are both self-debilitating (i.e., decrease the probability of success) and self-protective (i.e., decrease stress through nonability attributions for failure) (Berglas & Jones, 1978). Self-handicapping has been theorized to control the attributions of others with regard to one's performance outcome through either an augmenting or discounting function (Kelly, 1972). Empirical evidence demonstrates that a lodged self-handicap coupled with subsequent performance success augments the individual's perceived ability given the fact that such success was achieved despite a supposed performance-debilitating obstacle (Feick & Rhodewalt, 1997; Tice, 1991). Other results point to the discounting function of self-handicapping whereby self-referent attributes such as ability, competence, or intelligence are attenuated as salient sources of performance failure (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Paisley, 1985; Rhodewalt & Davison, 1986; Rhodewalt & Hill, 1995; Rhodewalt, Morf, Hazlett, & Fairfield, 1991; Schouten & Handelsman, 1987).
Considerable social psychology research has investigated both the antecedents and consequences of self-handicapping behavior under controlled, experimental conditions. For example, studies have documented the personal characteristics predictive of self-handicapping (Dietrich, 1995; Harris, Snyder, Higgins, & Scrag, 1986; Midgley, Arunkumar, & Urdan, 1996; Rhodewalt, 1990), manifestations of behavioral and claimed handicaps (DeGree & Snyder, 1985; Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2000; Smith, Snyder, & Handelsman, 1982; Tice & Baumeister, 1990), motives underlying self-protective strategies (Hirt, Deppe, & Gordon, 1991; Tice, 1991), affective and attitudinal consequences of self-handicapping (Cox & Giuliano, 2000; Deppe & Harackiewicz, 1996; Spalding & Hardin, 1999; Zuckerman, Kieffer, & Knee, 1998) and evaluative conditions that typically elicit self-handicapping behavior (Feick & Rhodewalt, 1997; Rhodewalt & Hill, 1995; Self, 1990; Snyder, 1990). In the sport realm, studies have focused on the relationship between s elf-handicapping and self-esteem (Prapavessis & Grove, 1998), effort management (Rhodewalt, Saltzman, & Wittmer, 1984), team cohesion (Carron, Prappavesis, & Grove, 1994; Hausenblas & Carron, 1996), precompetitive affect (Prapavessis & Grove, 1994; Ryska, Yin, & Cooley, 1998), and motivational team climate (Ryska, Yin, & Boyd, 1999). Given the demonstrated impact of self-handicapping on performance-related factors in competitive sport such as affect, motivation, and effort, it is surprising that no known research has addressed the relationship between self-handicapping and physical performance.
The nature of self-handicapping is paradoxical in that the barriers created to preserve one's perceived ability from potential failure make that failure all the more certain. Although the short-term benefits of self-handicapping include reduced psychological stress resulting from personal failure as well as an illusion of maintained skill and ability, these benefits come at the long-term expense of performance success. Jones and Berglas (1978) contend that underachievers are best characterized as habitual self-handicappers, continually striving to maintain an image of unrealized potential through frequent failure resulting from inadequate preparation or effort.
Bandera's (1986) self-efficacy theory emphasizes the influence of self-confidence on performance within social comparison settings. Several studies have demonstrated that positive expectations derived from either self-based or other-based sources are related to improved performance, whereas impaired performance typically results from negative evaluation expectancies (Sanna, 1992; Sanna & Pusecker, 1994; Sanna & Shotland, 1990). Self-confidence has been documented as a positive predictor of athletic performance as well, especially in situations with process-based performance standards (Krane, Marks, Zaccaro, & Blair, 1996; Treasure, Monson, & Lox, 1996). Results from the sport realm also suggest that those individuals with more confidence in their capabilities tend to exhibit greater task effort, persistence, and improvement (George & Feltz, 1995; Schunk, 1995).
The general purpose of the study was to determine the extent to which claimed impediments (i.e., self-reported handicaps) impact subsequent performance on a physical task among young participants. In its original formulation, self-handicapping theory would predict that athletic performance suffers as a result of lodged handicaps (Jones & Berglas, 1978). However, investigations into the relationship between self-handicapping and performance have yielded mixed results with most studies assessing performance in the cognitive or intellectual domains. For example, the ingestion of a purported performance-debilitating pill resulted in better performance on a digit-symbol task among subjects relatively low in achievement motivation (Weiner & Sierad, 1975). However, greater trait self-handicapping among college students has been associated with lower academic achievement (Rhodewalt, 1990; Zuckerman et al., 1986). In their rationale for the performance-enhancing effects of self-handicapping, Frankel and Snyder (1978) contend that having experienced failure on a task, individuals are likely to maintain effort and actually improve performance on a second similar task as long as salient, nonability attributions are posited for their potential failure. In this way performance may be improved by engaging in self-protective strategies which allow the anticipated negative evaluation to be manipulated. Other findings indicate that self-handicapping functions to minimize anticipated threats to self-esteem which, in turn, permits the individual to maintain sufficient effort and improve upon previous performance (Rhodewalt & Davison, 1986).
Evidence suggests that within evaluative settings, individuals are more attentive to any discrepancy between their behavior and that considered normative within the specific context (Carver & Sheier, 1981). This perceived discrepancy often impairs performance as a result of reduced effort and/or performance concerns. Such pressure may be largely alleviated through the lodging of a self-handicap which results in a more adaptive attentional focus and, consequently, better performance (Baumeister & Showers, 1986; Mullen & Baumeister, 1987; Sanna & Mark, 1995). Deppe and Harackiewicz (1996) further argue that self-handicapping allows an individual to distance him or herself from performance concerns which, in turn, permits a greater attentional focus on the intrinsically motivating aspects of the task. With a self-protective handicap in place, the task experience is perceived as more pleasurable, resulting in enhanced self-confidence, improved ability, and bolstered motivation.
Several theorists propose that self-handicapping behavior impact performances largely as a function of self-confidence under conditions where the …