Review: Development of Self-Handicapping Tendencies

Review: Development of Self-Handicapping Tendencies

Hunter Drake

University of South Florida, Saint Petersburg
SOP 4004:691 Social Psychology
Dr. Kurt Toler, Ed.D.


 Review: Development of Self-Handicapping Tendencies

In this multi-faceted study, Kimble, Kimble and Croy (1998) examined the phenomenon of self-handicapping by young boys and girls in the United States. As cited by Kimble et al., self-handicapping is the performance of an action to defend one’s self-evaluation when faced with a test or evaluation (Tice, 1991). In behavioral self-handicapping, people create some disadvantage for themselves prior to evaluation (Kimble, Kimble, & Croy, 1998).

Literature Review

Kimble et al. hypothesized that self-handicapping occurs more in children with low self-esteem. In testing the hypothesis, they set up the experiment to examine many variables from the same dataset. They considered: whether most children self-handicap; at what age does self-handicapping begin; the effect of the salience of self-esteem on self-handicapping; and how a child’s level of self-esteem affects self-handicapping (Kimble, Kimble, & Croy, 1998).

The method of the study involved taking 81 children who were in either the third or sixth grades and splitting them into low and high self-esteem groups. Experimenters remained blind to the subjects’ self-esteem scores until the end of the data gathering sessions. The procedure was to tell half of the subjects that they were playing a game. The other half were told that they were taking a test. The gamers were told that their performance was not important, but that they would score higher if they practiced. The test takers were encouraged to practice. To both groups, the same workbook of problems was presented. Experimenters recorded the time taken by each student to complete the workbook as well as the number of problems completed. The students were all also given an evaluation on how they felt about the upcoming game or test. Half of the students took the self-esteem evaluation before their test or game practice and the other half after.

It was found that, in third graders, those with low self-esteem practiced less (self-handicapped) regardless of whether the self-esteem evaluation came before or after the activity. In sixth graders, this was only true if their self-evaluation of low self-esteem was reinforced by taking the self-esteem survey before the activity. High self-esteem third graders did not show to be self-handicapping. However, high-self-esteem sixth graders only avoided self-handicapping when they were given the evaluation prior to the activity. The findings seem to suggest that priming high self-esteem students with positive thoughts limits the use of self-handicapping. The results also suggest that third graders are not as likely to be influenced by the positive priming, but were more influenced by trait self-esteem.


Kimbel et al. discuss, in length, the implications of this research on education. Primarily, the results suggest that using a strategy of priming students who are 11 and older, especially high-esteem males, with reminders of their positive abilities before evaluations minimizes the self-handicapping behavior. Limitations of the study mentioned were that the results primarily apply to cultures like the United States, where competition and winning are high ideals. Perhaps, outside of a competitive climate the results would be different.


I feel that this study does an excellent job of affirming and extending prior studies. I also feel that studies like this are critical to not only the field of education but that they also have great applicability in the areas of psychology, like addiction recovery. More work needs to be done to see if the results are generalizable to non-WEIRD subjects. However, even if just used to generate strategies in countries like the United States, minimizing the self-handicapping phenomenon is a noble goal.


Kimble, C. E., Kimble, E. A., & Croy, N. A. (1998). Development of Self-Handicapping Tendencies. The Journal of Social           Psychology, 138(4), 524-534.

Tice, D. (1991). Esteem protection or enhancement? Self-handicapping motives and attributions differ by trait self-esteem.     Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 711-725.


About hunterpauldrake

May all of my faults, travails, and errors, be of worth to others....

Posted on October 24, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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