Unattainable Goal Choice as a Self-Handicapping Strategy1

Authors

  • Jerald Greenberg

    Corresponding author
    1. Ohio State University
      Requests for reprints should be sent to Jerald Greenberg, Faculty of Management and Human Rcsources, Ohio State University, 1775 College Road, Columbus, OH 43210.
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  • 1

    A preliminary version of this experiment was reported at the meeting of the Academy of Management, Dallas, August 1983. The author acknowledges the helpful comments of Robert Arkin, Edward E. Jones, and Edwin Locke on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Jerald Greenberg, Faculty of Management and Human Rcsources, Ohio State University, 1775 College Road, Columbus, OH 43210.

Abstract

Selection of an extremely difficult performance goal is conceptualized as a self-handicapping strategy–an attempt to externalize outcomes threatening one's self-image. In a laboratory study, male college students were led to believe they had succeeded at a task that was either relevant or irrelevant to their self-images. In conjunction with this, subjects were led to believe that the success they had experienced was either contingent upon or not contingent upon their effort. Consistent with a self-handicapping strategy, extremely difficult performance goals were selected on a subsequent task when success at a previous task was not contingent upon workers' e]ffort, but only in the personally relevant condition-i.e., when task performance had attributional implications for workers' s]elf-images. Personally irrelevant tasks led to a realistic downward revision of performance aspirations in response to noncontingent success.

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