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Effects of situational self-handicapping and state self-confidence on the physical performance of young participants.

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 probability of future success is uncertain (Arkin & Baumgardner, 1985; Rhodewalt, 1990; Snyder, 1990). Sanna and Mark (1995) revealed that high trait self-handicappers in a low personal efficacy condition outperformed others on a word association task when they exposed themselves to an auditory stimulus thought to interfere with the ability to perform. These authors conclude that under nonevaluative conditions, no appreciable relationship exists between self-handicapping and performance. Within an evaluative context, however, self-handicapping improves performance among subjects with low-efficacy expectations, whereas the performance-enhancing effect of self-handicapping is largely absent among high-efficacy subjects. This notion is closely aligned with sport research which indicates that appropriate attentional focus is tantamount to performance success. Highly suc cessful athletes consistently report less distracting thoughts, less worry and concern regarding performance outcome, and greater self-confidence (Garfield & Bennett, 1984; Gould, Ecklund, & Jackson, 1992; Moran, 1996). Based on this evidence, the greatest performance gains might be expected from participants with low confidence who self-handicap, thereby enhancing their intrinsic interest in the task, alleviating performance concerns, and gaining an appropriate attentional focus.

The present study sought to shed light on this issue as it pertains to physical performance by determining the relative contribution of trait self-handicapping, situational self-handicapping, and self-confidence on running performance among physical education students. Of particular interest was the potential self-handicapping x self-confidence interaction effect on running performance. It was hypothesized that situational self-handicapping would have a significant positive impact on performance among the runners with low confidence whereas this relationship would not be present among those runners highly confident in their ability to excel in the running task.



The sample was comprised of 238 male (n = 135) and female (n = 103) middle school physical education students who were participating in a diagnostic 1-mile run test required as part of a physical fitness testing protocol. Students ranged in age from 11 to 13 (M = 12.48, SD = .56) and represented various ethnic groups including Anglo American (n = 115, 48.3%), Mexican American (n = 87, 36.6 %), African American (n = 22, 9.2%), and Asian American (n = 14, 5.9 %).


State self-confidence (State SC). The State Sport-Confidence Inventory (SSCI) (Vealey, 1986) measures the degree of certainty individuals hold at a particular moment regarding their ability to perform successfully in a sport endeavor. The SSCI is comprised of 13 items which reflect various aspects of sport performance such as the "ability to be successful," "ability to perform consistently," "ability to achieve competitive goals," "ability to perform under pressure," and the "ability to meet the challenge of competition." Participants were asked to rate the level of their confidence in each of the 13 performance areas compared to that of the most confident runner they know, utilizing a 9-point scale from 1 (low) to 9 (high). The SSCI generates a unidimensional scale of state sport confidence which has demonstrated adequate internal consistency and construct validity across a variety of sport samples (Vealey, 1986, 1988). SSCI items were modified slightly in the present study to specify both the context and so urce of confidence estimations. In particular, the term "1-mile run" was inserted into each item where grammatically correct and the word "athlete" was replaced by "runner" in each item.

Trait self-handicapping (Trait SH). The abridged version of the Self-Handicapping Scale (SHS) (Rhodewalt, 1990) was used to measure students' dispositional tendency to engage in behavioral and claimed self-handicapping within the context of evaluative performance. The SHS consists of 14 items which are scored along a 6-point scale anchored by 1 (disagree very much) and 6 (agree very much), producing two independent dimensions of trait self-handicapping. The Excuse Making subscale (9 items) represents an individual's proclivity to offer excuses regarding potentially self-debilitating obstacles prior to an evaluative performance. Items from this subscale include, "when I do something wrong, my first impulse is to blame the circumstances" and "I would do much better if I did not let my emotions get in the way." The Effort subscale (5 items) reflects an individual's tendency to withhold effort within the context of an evaluative activity and is represented by items such as, "I would do a lot better if I tried har der" and "I tend to put things off to the last moment."

Various studies have used the SHS to assess trait self-handicapping within academic settings, consistently reporting the strength of its psychometric properties (Dietrich, 1995; Feick & Rhodewalt, 1997; Midgley et al., 1996; Rhodewalt & Hill, 1995; Sanna & Mark, 1995; Zuckerman et al., 1998). However, problems of inadequate reliability and inconsistent factor structure have been noted in its use among competitive sport samples (Hausenblas & Carron, 1996; Prapavessis & Grove, 1998; Ryska et al., 1998, 1999). In an attempt to improve the psychometric properties of the SHS yet preserve the validity of the measured construct for the present sample, each subscale item was made situation specific where grammatically correct. For example, the revised SHS included items such as "I always try to do my best in running contests, no matter what" (Item 4), "I would do a lot better in running contests if I tried harder" (Item 7), and "I often think I have more than my share of bad luck in running contests" (Item 12).

Situational self-handicapping (Situational SH). The potential impediments to performance claimed by individuals vary widely depending on contextual and personal factors (Rhodewalt, 1990). In order to minimize any demand characteristics which might occur with a forced-choice approach, an open-ended response format was utilized to assess the degree of self-reported handicapping among the runners (Carron et al., 1994; Feick & Rhodewalt, 1997; Rhodewalt & Hill, 1995). Participants were asked to list any events they experienced during the preceding week which would prohibit them from performing successfully in the upcoming run test. Respondents also indicated the degree to which each identified handicap was anticipated to impede their run performance along a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). These scores represent the level of context-specific handicapping individuals exhibit immediately prior to evaluative performance. Hence, severity scores corresponding to the obstacles claimed by an i ndividual were summed to generate a unidimensional measure of self-reported handicapping, termed situational self-handicapping. This open-response procedure has been used as an effective means of assessing self-reported handicapping among intercollegiate and youth sport samples (Carron et al., 1994; Hausenblas & Carron, 1996; Ryska et al., 1998, 1999; Prapavessis & Grove, 1998).

Participants generated a wealth of claimed performance impediments, a majority of which were either directly or indirectly related to the run test. An informal content analysis was conducted on the responses in order to create meaningful self-handicapping categories. The most frequently cited performance impediments were categorized as inadequate physical preparation (24.32%), other sport commitments (18.65%), precompetitive anxiety (16.90%), injury/illness (15.77%), social activities (13.20%), poor concentration (11.05%), inadequate sleep (9.19%), general life stress (8.48%), and school obligations (7.65%). The least frequently cited handicaps were equipment problems (3.76%), lack of social support (3.44%), insufficient motivation (2.43%), and relationship problems with family/friends (1.61%). A question may be raised regarding the presence of an actual performance-debilitating obstacle versus its deliberate creation and strategic use. It is important to note that the impact of a self-reported handicap is no t linked to the level of actual performance threat, but is derived from the very act of lodging it prior to performance (i.e., constructing a handicap and promoting its potential negative impact) (Leary & Shepperd, 1986; Sanna & Mark, 1995; Zuckerman et al., 1998). Stated differently, self-reported handicaps do not represent actual behaviors enacted to create objective barriers to performance, but represent the credible verbal claim that such a situation exists (Berglas & Jones, 1978; Rhodewalt, 1990). Although the various impediments claimed by this sample of runners may not be associated with actual objective threats to performance, the impact of these claims lies in the fact that they are perceived as salient performance-limiting obstacles by the self-handicappers and evaluative others.

Run test performance. Running performance was assessed through a standardized procedure developed as part of the Prudential FITNESSGRAM (Institute for Aerobics Research, 1992) youth fitness testing protocol. Students were required to complete the 1-mile run to the best of their ability along a metric running track. Each student began the run on an individual basis amidst his or her instructors and classmates. Students' individual run times (min:sec) comprised the dependent measure. These 1-mile run times were posted for each participant and used as normative data with regard to class standing. The reliability and stability of the FITNESSGRAM has been documented among children aged 11-13 (Baumgartner & Jackson, 1999).


A written description of the study was distributed to all parents and consent was obtained for each student. Prior to questionnaire administration, participants were assured of the anonymity and confidentiality of their responses as well as their ability to terminate participation at any time. Session 1 occurred 2 days prior to the run test wherein participants were administered demographic items and the SHS. In Session 2, each participant completed the open-response measure of situational self-handicapping and the SSCI within 20 minutes of his or her respective start for the 1-mile run. Given the transient nature of self-handicapping and self-confidence states as well as possible response contamination based on the order of the measures, Session 2 questionnaires were counterbalanced in order to minimize any confounding effects. Each participant's data from Session 1 (i.e., demographics, trait self-handicapping), Session 2 (situational self-handicapping and state self-confidence), and Session 3 (1-mile run ti mes) were linked through an anonymous coding system. At the conclusion of testing, all participants were fully debriefed as to the purpose of the study.


Preliminary Analyses

The score means, standard deviations, and ranges for the trait self-handicapping, situational self-handicapping, state self-confidence, and run performance measures are presented in Table 1. The distribution of scores on each measure appeared relatively normal upon inspection. Although the internal consistency of the SSCI was acceptable ([alpha] = .86), the excuse-making ([alpha] = .68) and effort ([alpha] = .43) subscales of the SHS did not meet the standard ([alpha][greater than or equal to] .70) established by Kline (1998). It may be the case that these subscale items measure a common latent construct with varying accuracy and precision, under which conditions, Cronbach's alpha coefficient has a tendency to underestimate scale reliability (Komaroff, 1997; Miller, 1995). As an alternative, the composite reliability for congeneric measures model (CRCMM; Raykov, 1997) was used to generate a composite reliability estimate for each of the SHS subscales. This procedure improved the internal consistency of the ex cuse-making subscale to .72, whereas the effort subscale remained unacceptable (.49). Thus, in all subsequent analyses the construct of trait self-handicapping was represented by the excuse-making subscale of the SHS.

Table 2 indicates low to moderate bivariate correlations between the dependent measure of run performance and each of the predictor variables (rs = .10 - .34). Significant multicollinearity among the study variables did not appear to be present as none of the bivariate correlations exceeded the criterion level (r [greater than or equal to] .70) set forth by Tabachnick and Fidell (1996) nor did the variance inflation factor (VIF) values calculated for the predictor variables exceed the criterion value of 10 (Neter, Wasserman, & Kutner, 1989).

Regression Analyses

Within the statistical framework of analysis of variance, a moderator effect is represented by the interaction between the predictor and the moderator variable such that the conditions under which the predictor operates on the criterion variable are specified. The basic moderator model involves testing the paths between the predictor (X) and criterion (Y), the moderator (Z) and criterion (Y), and the predictor-moderator product (XZ) and criterion (Y). A significant interaction path is sufficient to support the moderator hypothesis, and under most circumstances, this effect represents linear change in the criterion measure with respect to changes in both the predictor and moderator variables. The significance of predictor main effects is of secondary importance in a direct test of the moderator hypothesis. However, a clearer interpretation of the interaction is available when the moderator variable is unrelated to both the predictor and criterion measures (Baron & Kenny, 1986).

Several statistical issues needed to be addressed prior to testing the moderator hypothesis as part of the multiple hierarchical regression analysis. First, several procedures have been proposed for coding categorical variables for their proper use as predictors in multiple regression. According to Darlington (1990), the present study used the dummy variable method to code gender (male = 0; female = 1) for its entry into the regression equation. Second, regression equations containing an interaction term may be susceptible to considerable multicollinearity and cumbersome regression coefficient estimation if calculated on uncentered predictor variables (Marquardt, 1980; Neter et al., 1989). Thus, raw scores on trait excuse-making, situational reported handicapping, and self-confidence were centered by subtracting the respective mean from each score (Aiken & West, 1991). Third, given the fact that linear moderator variables represented by a product term (XZ) may be underestimated through decreased reliability, a generalized least squares estimation was used in the present analysis (Busemeyer & Jones, 1983; Kenny & Judd, 1984). Fourth, the proper method of deriving a standardized solution differs based on whether the regression equation does or does not contain interaction terms (Aiken & West, 1991). According to the suggestions of Friedrich (1982), the predictors were represented by zx, zz, and zxz, with the unstandardized solution of the regression analysis correctly representing the appropriate standardized solution for the present regression equation with an interaction. In order to account for all potential contributors to the prediction of run performance and to determine the relative contribution of the interaction term with other variables in the model, all predictors were entered simultaneously in the first step of the regression analysis. Five interaction terms involving trait SH, situational SH, state SC, and gender were entered individually in the second step of the equation in a forward stepwise manner (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996).

Results from a complete and reduced regression model are listed in Table 3. For the complete model, the variables of gender ([beta] = .25, p < .01) and situational self-handicapping ([beta]= .23, p < .01) emerged as significant predictors of run performance in the first step. The inclusion of the situational SH x state SC ([beta] = -.38, p < .05) interaction in Step 2 rendered the situational self-handicapping predictor nonsignificant ([beta] = .05, ns). This term contributed a significant 7% to the explained variance in run performance with the entire model accounting for 22%.

In the interest of reducing error associated with nonsignificant predictors in the regression equation, a second analysis was conducted with only those variables that were significant in the second step of the first analysis or constituted part of the interaction terms. In the first step of the final model, gender ([beta] = .23, p < .01) and situational SH ([beta] = .28, p < .01) again emerged as significant predictors of run performance. With the inclusion of the interaction term, situational self-handicapping was dropped from significance ([beta] = .07, ns ). The situational SH x state SC ([beta] = -.34, p < .05) interaction was significant, contributing an additional 8% (p < .05) to the prediction of run performance (total adjusted R2 = .25). The two-way gender x situational SH interaction ([beta] = .14, ns) and the three-way gender x situational SH x state SC ([beta] -.05, ns) interactions did not contribute significantly to the explanation of run performance.

Simple slopes were calculated to represent the regression of Y (run performance) on X (situational SH) at low and high levels of Z (state SC). The values of ZL (-1 SD) and ZH (+1 SD) were substituted into the simple regression equations in order to produce these simple slopes (Cohen & Cohen, 1983). Analyses of the simple slopes portrayed in Figure 1 indicate that the relationship between situational self-handicapping and run performance among runners with low self-confidence was significantly positive, t(297) = 3.12, p < .01, whereas the same slope among highly self-confident runners was comparatively flat, t(297) = .25, p > .05). These post hoc results indicate that among runners with low confidence, situational self-handicapping had a significant positive impact on performance beyond the influence of the runner's gender, whereas the relationship between situational self-handicapping and performance was not significant among relatively confident runners.


The present results provide clear evidence that within an evaluative physical activity setting, levels of state self-confidence and claimed self-handicapping interact to impact resulting performance. Specifically, greater situational self-handicapping predicted faster run times among participants with low self-confidence, whereas the positive impact of self-handicapping was not as evident among the highly confident group of runners. As expected, males recorded significantly faster run times than females, however, the self-handicapping x self-confidence interaction predicted run times above and beyond the influence of gender. In addition, the interaction effect appeared to be pervasive across an ethnically diverse sample of physical activity participants. This result enhances the generalizability of the present study in so far as a variety of other youth sport and physical activity settings possess a similar ethnic composition (Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, 2001).

Although the study points to possible performance effects of self- handicapping in a naturalistic athletic setting, this relationship should be thoroughly tested in other sport-related achievement settings. Jones and Berglas (1978) originally postulated that only those individuals who have low self-confidence, or what the authors termed "basic uncertainty about how competent one is" (p. 406) are prone to engage in self-handicapping strategies. However, it appears that within this particular evaluative athletic context not only is self-handicapping exhibited by both confident and unconfident runners, but the impact of this strategy on performance is largely a function of runner self-confidence. These conflicting results may be reconciled by considering the complex interplay of personal and situational factors which impact performance outcomes in the athletic realm. It may be the case that athletes who are relatively confident in their ability to perform successfully still employ self-handicaps due to externall y controlled situational factors which have a substantial impact on performance success. Perceived control of performance outcomes should be included in future models of self-handicapping and athletic performance.

Another important area of future investigation involves the motives underlying self-handicapping among athletes who vary in situation-specific self-confidence. To date, the most relevant findings indicate that individuals with relatively high self-esteem typically handicap themselves in order to accentuate personal responsibility for performance success, whereas their low self-esteem counterparts self-handicap in an attempt to minimize the psychological threat of impending failure (Rhodewalt et al., 1991; Tice, 1991). Thus, it might be suspected that runners with low confidence (i.e., those with negative performance expectations) are largely motivated to claim performance-debilitating obstacles for their discounting properties, as proposed by Kelly (1972). Conversely, highly confident runners (i.e., those with positive performance expectations) may self-handicap not to avoid the threat of failure but to maximize the self-effacing potential of a probable success. The identification of motivational differences in self-handicapping as a function of self-confidence may shed light on the significant interaction effect demonstrated in the present study.

As the self-handicapping-performance relationship is tested within other physical activity settings, the specific types of self-handicapping strategies utilized by participants should be identified within the research design. In particular, the performance effects of behavioral and claimed self-handicapping should be compared. Conceptualized as anticipatory attributional defenses, these two types of self-handicapping strategies share a common self-protective function whereby personal responsibility for failure is attributed to the acquired or claimed handicap, thus reducing the impact of negative evaluation on one's social- and self-esteem (Greenberg et al., 1985). In the unlikely case of performance success, both strategies allow the self-handicapper to accentuate an ability attribution. However, several authors note an important operational difference between behavioral and self-reported handicaps which has a clear implication regarding the effect these two types of strategies have on performance (Arkin & B aumgardner, 1985; Leary & Shepperd, 1986). As originally theorized, self-handicapping refers to the active, behavioral construction of an impediment which is intended to decrease the likelihood of performance success yet provides a non-self-incriminating reason for probable failure (Berglas & Jones, 1978). In contrast, an individual who reports that a handicapping condition exists does not expect such a claim to actually debilitate performance. It is plausible that situational self-handicapping (i.e., excuse-making) enables an individual to manipulate success and failure attributions without the performance-debilitating effects which are commensurate with behavioral handicaps. Determining differences in the performance effects of claimed and behavioral self-handicaps has important practical implications in that sport intervention may identify and promote any positive impact of the self-handicapping process within sport- and physical activity-based settings.

The present interaction results indicate that situational self-handicapping has a performance-enhancing effect among participants with low confidence. Although the statistical effect size of this interaction was somewhat low, its practical significance has important implications with regard to sport intervention. In essence, the issue arises as to whether any conditions exist under which self-handicapping should be tolerated, if not promoted, within the evaluative contexts of sport and physical activity. Unfortunately, the cross-sectional design of the study did not allow an examination of the consequences of chronic self-reported handicapping on performance. Indirect evidence was provided, however, by testing the trait self-handicapping x situational self-handicapping interaction which revealed that the relationship between situational self-handicapping and performance is not significantly influenced by one's dispositional tendency to self-handicap. Given that high trait self-handicappers engage in these str ategies more frequently and to a greater degree than their low trait self-handicapping counterparts, we might assume that repeated self-handicapping would have a positive, long-term impact on performance. However, chronic self-handicapping has been consistently related to various types of low performance and underachievement (Rhodewalt, 1990; Zuckerman et al., 1998). It is plausible that within the sport realm habitual behavioral self-handicapping manifests itself in chronically low fitness levels, reduced training effort, improper sleep/diet habits, and consistently low exposure to competitive situations. Each of these factors has been related to decreased performance (Pargman, 1998). Likewise, individuals who repeatedly exhibit inappropriate attributions, decreased athletic awareness, negative self-talk, and low levels of optimism tend to suffer long-term performance decrements (Grove & Pargman, 1986; Ravizza, 1998; Roberts, 1982; Van Raalte, Brewer, Rivera, & Petitpas, 1994). These factors could represent the cognitive components of habitual claimed self-handicapping within evaluative sport and physical activity settings. Hence, it may be speculated that both chronic claimed self-handicaps and behavioral self-handicaps impact performance similarly, yet through different means (i.e., cognitive vs. behavioral). Clearly, further work is needed to determine the long-term effects of habitual claimed and behavioral self-handicapping on athletic performance.

Theorists have suggested that the overall impact of a self-handicapping strategy may depend on whether it is motivated by a transient, context-specific type of self-doubt or a more pervasive, constitutional quality of self-doubt (Arkin & Oleson, 1998; Jones & Berglas, 1978). The sporadic use of situational handicaps may allow an athlete to adaptively manage occasional bouts of self-deprecatory thoughts and precompetitive uncertainty without undue adverse effects on performance, whereas the athlete who perceives the competitive setting as a constant and overwhelming threat to personal competence may be motivated to manage such threat through chronic self-handicapping. For this type of athlete, belief in his or her potential sport competence, sans obstacles, is much preferred to the experience of receiving negative feedback regarding his or her actual sport ability. However, the probable cost of this type of long-term control is quality performance. A qualitative approach could identify the operational nature o f self-handicapping for particular athletes, clarify the role of self-confidence before and after the employment of self-handicapping, and determine its long-term effects on performance. Greater insight into these issues would empower sport psychologists, coaches, and physical educators to deal more effectively with the performance concerns which confront both competitive athletes and physical activity participants.

Table 1

Descriptive Statistics for the Study Variables

Variables M SD Range

Trait SH 2.7 .74 1-7
Situation SH 8.49 2.51 0-28
State SC 5.56 1.27 1-9

Run performance (min:sec)
 Male 8:55 1:25 6:08-12:03
 Female 10:43 1:26 7:23-14:24
 Overall 9:36 1:11 6:08-14:24

Note: Trait SH =trait self- handicapping; Situational SH = situational
self-handicapping; State SC = state self confidence.

Table 2

zero-Order Correlations Among the Study Variables

 1 2 3 4

1. Trait SH -- .43 *** -.14 * .08
2. Situational SH -- -.29 *** .21 **
3. State SC -- .25 **
4. Run performance --

Note: * P [less than or equal to]

** p [less than or equal to] .01.

*** p [less than or equal to] .001.

Table 3

Prediction of Run Performance via Hierarchical Regression Models

 First Regression
Predictors [beta] Step 1 [beta] Step 2

 Gender .25 ** .21 **
 State SC .12 .14
 Trait SH .11 .06
 Situational SH .23 ** .05
 Trait SH x State SC .11
 Situational SH x Trait SH .09
 Situational SH x State SC -.38 *
 Gender x Trait SH .06
 Gender x Situational SH .14
 Gender x Situational -.05
 SH x State SC
Fvalue 5.44 *** 5.18 ***
AdjRsq .15 .22
RsqCh .07 *

 Final Regression
Predictors [beta] Step 1 [beta] Step 2

 Gender .23 ** .21 **
 State SC .15 .14
 Trait SH
 Situational SH .28 ** .07
 Trait SH x State SC
 Situational SH x Trait SH
 Situational SH x State SC -.34 *
 Gender x Trait SH
 Gender x Situational SH
 Gender x Situational
 SH x State SC
Fvalue 6.13 *** .93 ***
AdjRsq .17 .25
RsqCh .08 *

Note. * p [less than or equal to] .05.

** p [less than or equal to] .01.

*** p [less than or equal to] .001.


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Correspondence may be sent to Todd A. Ryska, University of Texas at San Antonio, College of Education, San Antonio, Texas 78249. (E-mail:
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Author:Ryska, Todd A.
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Date:Sep 22, 2002
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