Effects of Situational Self-Handicapping and State Self-Confidence on the Physical Performance of Young Participants

Article excerpt

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. …