Regulating self-defensiveness: If-then plans prevent claiming and creating performance handicaps

J. Lukas Thürmer, Sean M. McCrea, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Claiming or creating obstacles before performing important tasks (i.e., self-handicapping) is a costly strategy to protect the self from implications of poor outcomes. We predicted that forming an if-then plan (implementation intention) helps individuals overcome their performance-related worries and thus prevents self-handicapping behavior. In two experiments, all participants formed the goal to perform well on an upcoming task and learned the strategies to ignore worries and tell themselves "I can do it", either in an if-then format (implementation intention) or not (control). The task was either described as an intelligence test (highly threatening) or as a perception style test (less threatening). Participants could then claim a self-handicap (report stress, Experiment 1) or behaviorally self-handicap (inadequately prepare, Experiment 2). As predicted, implementation intentions reduced claimed and behavioral self-handicapping to levels observed in the low-threat control conditions. Experiment 2 demonstrated these effects among chronic self-handicappers. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)712-725
Number of pages14
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Implementation intentions
  • Self-defensiveness
  • Self-handicapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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