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Self-handicapping and overachievement : two strategies to cope with self-doubt
Lynch, Molly Ellen

1998, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, Psychology.

People, especially those who are unsure about their own level of competence, often want to appear competent to others. These individuals who doubt their level of competence have two strategies at their disposal to create an image of competence: self-handicapping and overachievement.

Self-handicapping involves the creation of obstacles or the withdrawal of effort on a task. This strategy allows its user to maintain the appearance of competence by discounting ability attributions for failure and augmenting ability attributions for success. Overachievement involves an excessive expenditure of effort to guarantee a successful outcome. This strategy allows its user to maintain the appearance of competence through the demonstration of a successful outcome.


Both self-handicapping and overachievement allow self-doubting individuals to maintain an image of competence. It is suggested here that which strategy individuals with a shaky sense of self-confidence choose to use depends on their frame of reference about how competence is judged. Self-doubting individuals focused on the idea that competence is judged according to ability level are proposed to self-handicap. Self-doubting individuals focused on the idea that competence is judged according to demonstrating outcomes are proposed to overachieve.


Two studies are presented that demonstrate the role of feelings of self-doubt and a focus on either the importance of ability or outcome in creating self-handicapping and overachievement behavior. Self-handicapping arises from feelings of self-doubt and a concern about one's ability level, overachievement arises from feelings of self-doubt and a concern about one's performance.


Feelings of self-doubt lie behind two very different patterns of behavior- effort withdrawal in self-handicapping and excessive effort expenditure in overachievement. Yet, both strategies serve the same purpose- allowing their users to maintain the appearance of competence. When competence may be judged according to ability level, self-handicapping is effective while when competence may be judged by outcomes, overachievement is effective.


Robert M. Arkin (Advisor)
Marilynn Brewer (Committee Member)
Curt Haugtvedt (Committee Member)
Gifford Weary (Committee Member)
275 p.

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Lynch, M. (1998). Self-handicapping and overachievement : two strategies to cope with self-doubt. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Lynch, Molly. "Self-handicapping and overachievement : two strategies to cope with self-doubt." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 1998. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 29 Jun 2015.

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Lynch, Molly "Self-handicapping and overachievement : two strategies to cope with self-doubt." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 1998. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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