Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 712–725 | Cite as

Regulating self-defensiveness: If–then plans prevent claiming and creating performance handicaps

  • J. Lukas Thürmer
  • Sean M. McCrea
  • Peter M. Gollwitzer
Original Paper


Claiming or creating obstacles before performing important tasks (i.e., self-handicapping) is a costly strategy to protect the self from implications of poor outcomes. We predicted that forming an if–then plan (implementation intention) helps individuals overcome their performance-related worries and thus prevents self-handicapping behavior. In two experiments, all participants formed the goal to perform well on an upcoming task and learned the strategies to ignore worries and tell themselves “I can do it”, either in an if–then format (implementation intention) or not (control). The task was either described as an intelligence test (highly threatening) or as a perception style test (less threatening). Participants could then claim a self-handicap (report stress, Experiment 1) or behaviorally self-handicap (inadequately prepare, Experiment 2). As predicted, implementation intentions reduced claimed and behavioral self-handicapping to levels observed in the low-threat control conditions. Experiment 2 demonstrated these effects among chronic self-handicappers. Implications of these findings are discussed.


Self-handicapping Implementation intentions Self-defensiveness 



We would like to thank Kevin Bell, Nadine Lages, and Kayla Nelson for their assistance with data collection. This research was supported by German Research Foundation grant DFG MC68/2-1 to Sean M. McCrea and Peter M. Gollwitzer.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Lukas Thürmer
    • 1
  • Sean M. McCrea
    • 2
  • Peter M. Gollwitzer
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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