Self-Deceptive Coping: Adaptive Only in Ambiguous Contexts


  • The present article is based in part on the author's doctoral dissertation entitled “Adaptive Responses to Threat: The Role of Self-Deception and Contextual Ambiguity” at the Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo. Preparation of this article was supported in part by a Medical Research Council of Canada Studentship, as well as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship to the author. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Leslie Johnson and Steven Peevers in the data collection. Ken und Pat Bowers for design suggestions. Hal White and David Olson for comments on a draft of this article, and Erik Woody for suggestions und advice throughout the research and writing stages.

concerning this article should be sent to Edward A. Johnson, who is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3T 2N2.


ABSTRACT Two experiments investigated claims for the efficacy of self-deceptive coping (e.g., Sackeim, 1983, 1988). In Study I the performance of self-deceivers on solvable anagrams was found to he remarkably poor relative to that of non-self-deceivers after both groups were exposed to unsolvable problems. The starkly unambiguous failure experience may have precluded self-deception. Therefore, in Study 2 participants were exposed to unsolvable problems either with or without an excuse. Self-deceivers who encountered failure with an excuse subsequently performed much better on the solvable tasks than those without an excuse. These findings suggest that the use of self-deception following threat is constrained by the availability of contextual ambiguity (e.g., excuses). The effect of the excuse was not related to participants' mood or attributions for performance.