The Three Faces of Self-Handicapping: Protective Self-Presentation, a Strategy for Self-Esteem Enhancement, and a Character Disorder

  • Steven Berglas
Part of the Recent Research in Psychology book series (PSYCHOLOGY)


This paper focuses on the manner in which the concept of self-handicapping has evolved from its original form defined by Jones and Berglas (1978) and identified experimentally by Berglas and Jones (1978). Specifically, it will consider how modifications in the meaning of the term “self-handicapping” have developed as a result of replicating the Berglas and Jones paradigm (e.g. Kolditz and Arkin, 1982), extensions of this paradigm to experimental investigations of clinical phenomena (e.g., Tucker, Vuchinich, and Sobell, 1981), and empirical investigations of self-handicapping behavior employing experimental paradigms which differ significantly from Berglas and Jones (1978). The significance of each of these three paradigm shifts will be discussed along with an analysis of the potential benefits and liabilities which derive from extending the concept of self-handicapping beyond its original “range of convenience” (Kelly, 1955). An in-depth analysis of data obtained by researchers such as Arkin et al., Snyder et al., and Tucker et al., will be presented in an attempt to demonstrate how different research groups conduct experiments which, owing to their design, highlight only one of the three “faces” of self-handicapping behavior.


State Anxiety Test Anxiety Attribution Theory Secondary Gain Pretest Performance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, A. (1913). Individual psychologische behandlung der neurosen. In D. Sarason (Ed.), Jahreskurse fur arztliche fortbildunq. Munich: Lehman.Google Scholar
  2. Adler, A. (1930). Problems of neurosis. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation.Google Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association (1980). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders ( Third Edition ). Washington, D.C.: APAGoogle Scholar
  4. Berglas, S. (1976). “I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News: You’re the ‘Greatest.’ The Disruptive Effects of Positive Evaluative Feedback.” Unpublished manuscript, Department of Psychology, Duke University.Google Scholar
  5. Berglas, S. (1985). Self-handicapping and self-handicappers: A cognitive/attributional model of interpersonal self-protective behavior. In R. Hogan and W. H. Jones (Eds.). Perspectives In Personality (Vol. 1, pp. 235–270 ). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  6. Berglas, S. (1986a). The Success. Syndrome: Hitting Bottom When You Reach The Top. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  7. Berglas, S. (1986b). A typology of self-handicapping alcohol abusers. In: M.J. Saks and L. Saxe (Eds.), Advances in Applied Social Psychology (Volume 3 ). Hillsdale, NJ: LEA Publishers, pp. 29–56.Google Scholar
  8. Berglas, S. & Jones, E.E. (1978). Drug choice as a self-handicapping strategy in response to noncontingent success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36: 405–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Braginsky, B., Braginsky, D., & Ring, K. (1969). Methods of madness: The mental hospital as a last resort. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.Google Scholar
  10. Carson, R.C. (1969). Interaction concepts of personality. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  11. Cronbach, L.J. (1955). Processes affecting scores on ‘understanding of others’ and ‘assumed similarity.’ Psychological Bulletin, 52, 177–193.Google Scholar
  12. Fenichel, O. (1945). The psychoanalytic theory of neurosis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  13. Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., & Paisley, C. (1985). Effect of extrinsic incentives on use of test anxiety as an anticipatory attributional defense: Playing it cool when the stakes are high. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1136–1145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jones, E. E. & Berglas, S. (1978). Control of attributions about the self through self-handicapping strategies: The appeal of alcohol and the role of underachievement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4: 200–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jones, E.E. & Davis, K.E. (1965). From acts to dispositions: The attribution process in person perception. In: L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 219–266 ). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  16. Kelley, H.H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In: D. Levine (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (pp. 192–238 ). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kelley, H.H. Morristown, (1971). Attribution in social interaction. NJ: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs (Volume 2). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  19. Kernberg, O. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc.Google Scholar
  20. Kohut, H. (1971). The Analysis of Self. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kohut, H. (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. In: The Search for the Self. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kolditz, T. A. & Arkin, R. M. (1982). An impression management interpretation of the self-handicapping strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43: 492–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kuhn, T.S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Miller, A. (1981). The drama of the gifted child. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  25. Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  26. Parsons, T. (1958). Definitions of health and illness in light of American values and social structure. In: R. Jaco (Ed.), Patients, physicians and illness. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sarason, S. (1972). The creation of settings and the future societies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  28. Schlenker, B. R. (1980). Impression management. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  29. Shapiro, D. (1965). Neurotic styles. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  30. Smith, T.W., Snyder, C.R., & Handelsman, M.D. (1982). On the self-serving function of an academic wooden leg: Test anxiety as a self-handicapping strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 314–321.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Smith, T.W., Snyder, C.R., & Perkins, S.C. (1983). The self-serving function of hypochondriacal complaints: Physical symptoms as self-handicapping strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 787–797.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Snyder, C.R. & Smith, T.W. (1982). Symptoms as self-handicapping strategies: The virtues of old wine in a new bottle. In: G. Weary & H.L. Mirels (Eds.), Integrations of clinical and social psvcholocv (pp. 104–127 ). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Snyder, C.R., Smith, T.W., Augeli, R.W., & Ingram, R.E. (1985). On the self-serving function of social anxiety: Shyness as a self-handicapping strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 970–980.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Szasz, T. (1960). The myth of mental illness. American Psychologist. 15, 113–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Szasz, T. (1970). The manufacture of madness: A comparative study of the inquisition and the mental health movement. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  36. Tucker, J.A., Vuchinich, R.E., & Sobell, M.B. (1981). Alcohol consumption as a self-handicapping strategy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 90: 220–230.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Weidner, G. (1980). Self-handicapping following learned helplessness and the Type A coronary-prone pattern. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 24, 319–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven Berglas
    • 1
  1. 1.McClean Hospital/Harvard Medical SchoolUSA

Personalised recommendations