Is Self-worth Protection Best Regarded as Intentional Self-handicapping Behaviour or an Outcome of Choking Under Pressure
Thompson, T and Dinnel, DL, Is Self-worth Protection Best Regarded as Intentional Self-handicapping Behaviour or an Outcome of Choking Under Pressure, Educational Psychology, 27, (4) pp. 509-531. ISSN 0144-3410 (2007) [Refereed Article]
Self-worth protective students characteristically perform poorly when they anticipate that poor performance is likely to reveal low ability, yet perform well in situations that involve little threat to self-worth. The present study sought a further understanding of this variable pattern of achievement, assessing two possibilities: (1) that the poor performance of students high in self-worth protection in situations of high evaluative threat is appropriately viewed as self-handicapping behaviour in the form of strategic withdrawal of effort, and (2) that the poor performance of students high in self-worth protection is an outcome of anxiety or "choking under pressure". Participants were 72 undergraduate students, either high or low in self-worth protection, assigned to one of three performance feedback conditions: humiliating failure, failure allowing face-saving, and success. They subsequently completed 20 anagrams and 12 remote associates tasks, assessing performance, followed by 16 unicursal tasks during what was believed to be a practice period, providing an assessment of behavioural self-handicapping in the form of intentional low effort. Students high in self-worth protection performed poorly on the anagrams and remote associates following humiliating failure. They also reported greater anxiety across experimental conditions and claimed greater anxiety impairment than students low in self-worth protection. These outcomes provide little support for an interpretation of self-worth protection as self-handicapping behaviour, instead supporting an interpretation of self-worth protection as an outcome of choking under pressure, fuelled by evaluative threat.