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Selective defensiveness or nondefensiveness: How does relative autonomy relate to excuse-making when goal pursuits do not succeed?

Abstract

Relative autonomy (RA) is high when goals are value-consistent and volitionally enacted. This research compared 2 views of RA’s influence on excuse-making after hypothetical or recalled failures to attain exercise goals: i.e., RA could reduce all forms of excuse-making (nondefensiveness), or only those that harm continued goal-pursuit (selective defensiveness). Drawing on the typology of excuses by Schlenker et al. (Psychol Rev 101:632–652, 1994), Studies 1–3 showed that individuals with higher RA toward exercise perceived less legitimacy in, and especially avoided using excuses that denied the goal’s self-relevance. This excuse-type, when compared with denying control, was most harmful to commitment, and was less effective at reducing culpability. Study 4 showed that internalization of the exercise goal was supported only when excuse-making was tolerated by an ostensible authority. Together, these findings support the selective defensiveness view.

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Acknowledgments

Financial support for this research was received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Sport Canada, the Province of Manitoba, and the University of Manitoba. Preliminary findings were presented at the Annual Conventions for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Tampa, Florida in February 2009, and in Las Vegas, Nevada in January 2010; at the 4th International Self-Determination Theory Conference in Ghent, Belgium, and at the 71st Annual Convention for the Canadian Psychological Association. We would like to thank Ryan Reyes for assistance with data collection.

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Correspondence to Tara M. Thacher.

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Thacher, T.M., Bailis, D.S. Selective defensiveness or nondefensiveness: How does relative autonomy relate to excuse-making when goal pursuits do not succeed?. Motiv Emot 36, 323–337 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-011-9248-3

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Keywords

  • Relative autonomy
  • Defensiveness
  • Excuse-making
  • Goal pursuit