Self-handicapping in school physical education: The influence of the motivational climate


Correspondence should be addressed to Martyn Standage, Sport and Exercise Science Research Group, School for Health – Building 6 West, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK (e-mail:


Background. Self-handicapping is an attribution-related process whereby individuals create performance impediments/excuses to protect self-worth in socially evaluative environments. Thus, the prevailing motivational climate would appear to be an important factor when attempting to understand the situational self-handicapping process within school physical education.

Aims. Drawing from achievement goal theory, the study examined the effect of experimentally induced conditions (viz. task vs. ego) on situational self-handicapping.

Sample. Seventy British secondary school students (36 females and 34 males; M age = 11.98; SD=0.31).

Method. Participants were randomly assigned to partake in a running endurance task in either an ego-involving (20 male students and 16 female students) or a task-involving (14 male students and 20 female students) condition. Prior to completing the experimental task, participants were given the opportunity to claim situational self-handicaps. Data for goal orientations, subjective climate perceptions, perceived ability and perceived task importance were also obtained.

Results. After determining the effectiveness of the experimental manipulation, results revealed participants in the ego-involving condition to report significantly more situational self-handicapping claims. Further, and after controlling for individual difference variables, the results of moderated hierarchical regression analysis revealed subjective perceptions of an ego-involving climate to be the main positive predictor of situational self-handicapping. Although a weaker contributor to the percentage of variance explained, task orientation emerged as a negative predictor of situational self-handicapping.

Conclusions. The findings suggest that PE teachers would be prudent to minimize ego-involving situations should they wish to reduce situational self-handicapping.