The relationships between self-handicapping tendency and narcissistic personality traits, anxiety sensitivity, social support, academic achievement
Ayse Kalyon, Ibrahim Dadandi, Hikmet Yazici
Article No: 5   Article Type :  Research
Objective: Successful experiences in life increase motivation of individuals and support their efficacy perceptions, whereas unsuccessful experiences reduce their motivations. Individuals who generally avoid failures can sometimes prefer to be unsuccessful as a self-handicapping strategy. The basic psychological reason underlying this situation is individual’s effort to protect him/herself through attributing reasons of failure to external factors. The main aim of this study is to examine relationships between self-destroying tendency and narcissistic personality traits, anxiety sensitivity, perceived social support and academic achievement. In this context, expression of “narcissistic personality traits, anxiety sensitivity, social support and academic achievement explain self-handicapping tendency significantly” is the main hypothesis of the study.

Methods: Sample size consists of 483 university students (female=351 [72.7%]); male=132 [27.3%]). The mean age was 21.25±3.44 years. The data collection tools were Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3, Self-handicapping Scale, Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Multidimensional Perceived Social Support Scale and the Personal Information Form.

Results: Established regression model explained 31% of total variance in self-handicapping tendencies (F [9;482]=25.16, p<0.01). As narcissistic personality inventory subscales, authority (ß=0.08, p<0.05), self-sufficiency (ß=-0.18, p<0.01) and entitlement (ß=0.11, p<0.01) contributed to regression model significantly, while contribution of superiority (ß=-0.02, p>0.05), exhibitionism (ß=-0.01, p>0.05) and exploitation (ß=-0.03, p>0.05) was not significant. Additionally, anxiety sensitivity (ß=0.39, p<0.01), perceived social support (ß=-0.11, p<0.01) and academic achievement (ß=-0.19, p<0.01) had significant contributions to the model.

Conclusions: Self-handicapping is explained significantly by anxiety sensitivity, perceived social support, academic achievement and subscales of narcissism, such as authority, self-sufficiency and entitlement.
Keywords : Anxiety sensitivity, narcissism, self- handicapping
Dusunen Adam : The Journal of Psychiatry and Neurological Sciences : 2016;29:237-246
Full Text:

INTRODUCTION

Today’s societies have a success-oriented structure. As social and occupational roles become more complex in the society, individuals spend more efforts to meet society success. As a result, joining periods into community life, such as decision for an occupation, education, and work life with competitor environment and increased expectations in the modern life are accompanied by some psychological problems such as anxiety and depression (1-3). When individuals meet such problems, they apply to various defense mechanisms. While some individuals are trying to succeed in life by working hard, some may prefer unsuccessfulness. This condition, which was first conceptualized by Jones and Berglas (4) is called as self-handicapping. Self-destroying individual tries to protect or increases self-efficacy by discovering or forming conditions which will prevent him/her from achieving a good performance. In such a case, if he/she exhibits a bad performance, he/she can express cause of his/her unsuccessfulness imposing on the obstacle. Exhibition of a good performance indicates that he/she is successful despite inconvenient conditions. In short, a self-handicapping individual wins under every circumstance (5).

Self-handicapping may be encountered by verbal or behavioral ways. An individual who is self-destroying verbally, emphasizes unfavorable conditions that he/she is in, and he/she proposes these as results of his/her unsuccessfulness. Individuals who can self-destroy themselves by behaviors perform some directly, intentional, and observable activities (6). Alcohol use (7), examination anxiety (8), high cognitive distortion level (9), and postponing (10) may be shown as samples for self-handicapping. By using these strategies, roles of personal characteristics such as skills and efforts are decreased in possible unsuccessfulness. Therefore, self-handicapping mechanism helps to preserve self-respect by providing elasticity in self-evaluation of individuals (11). A self-destroying individual does not struggle for being unsuccessful. If he/she is able to express possible unsuccessfulness in the condition, then he/she accepts the risk of unsuccessfulness (5). However, here occurs a contradictory neurotic condition. Although the final aim is to protect or increase self-efficacy perception, defense form used by a self-destroying individual causes decreased in personal success, and harms self-image (12). Individuals who have self-handicapping tendency perceive obstacles directed to performance at higher levels, because they have low self-respect (13). Contradictory conditions that individuals are in constitutes a background for some psychological diseases. As a matter of fact, performed studies indicated that individuals with high level of self-destroying tendencies were more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress (14,15).

Tendency of self-handicapping has been related to different personal and psychological variables. One of them is narcissism. It is indicated that both structures are theoretically parallel, because of the common features of being arrogant, demanding, and efforts to protect self-value (6,16). This condition reminds that some natural characteristics in narcissism may serve self-handicapping strategies.

Researches showed that anxiety might be used as a self-handicapping strategy (17,18). Various cognitive mechanisms might play a role in development of anxiety and anxiety disorders (19). Anxiety sensitivity, which is defined by fear originated from beliefs that body sensations will have harmful physical, psychological, and/or social outcomes (20), is one of these cognitive mechanisms. There were studies indicating that there was a positive correlation between alcohol and substance abuse and anxiety sensitivity (21,22). Therefore, substance use observed in high anxiety sensitivity may be a self-handicapping strategy for the individual to externalize possible negative experiences.

Individuals refer to self-handicapping behaviors generally when there is an evaluation related to their ego. Loads of other people’s expectations are the most important concern in individuals who are self-harming. When personal performance of an individual is evaluated, generally self-handicapping tendency is increased (23). In this sense, it is important to examine self-handicapping of the individual in the social context. Social support system perceived by the individual is one of the factors.

Although it is a mechanism to protect ego of the individual, self-handicapping has the disadvantage such as increasing the failure rate (24). According to some theoreticians, self-handicapping behaviors may lead to chronic destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, alcoholism, and unsuccessfulness in the long-term (5,24). Therefore, studies contributing to understand and explain self-handicapping behavior will be beneficial.

The main aim of the present study was to investigate correlations between self-handicapping tendency and variables of anxiety sensitivity, perceived social support, narcissistic personal characteristics, academic success, gender, and educational level.

METHOD

The study sample was composed of university students at different departments of Karadeniz Technical University (KTU) in Trabzon in the academic calendar year of 2014-2015. Sampling was performed by convenience sampling method. This method was to choose the sample among easily accessible groups because of time and workforce limitations (25). Classes were randomly defined from different departments, and answering measurement tools was completely voluntary based of students. Although convenience sampling method had the limitation for generalization of the study results, it was reported that this method was useful for studies aiming determination of correlations between different variables (26). Moreover, such problems which might arise from sampling were tried to be taken under control statistically during data analysis (27). Of 483 participating students, 351 (72.7%) were females, and 132 (27.3%) were males. Of participants, 114 (23.6%) were at the first, 92 (19.04%) were at the second, 126 (26.08%) were third, 89 (18.43%) were fourth grades, whereas 62 (12.83%) were graduate students. The mean age was 21.25±3.44 years.

Measures

Personal Information Form: This was a form to collect information about age, gender, class level, and general academic points in the 4-point score system prepared by investigators.

Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3 (ASI-3): This scale which was developed to measure anxiety sensitivity multidimensional by Taylor et al., and its validity and reliability study was for the Turkish culture was performed by Mantar, et al. (19). The scale providing the measurement in a 5-Likert type contained 18 items. There were three subscales as physical, social, and cognitive. It was reported that the scale had high correlation (0.85) with anxiety sensitivity index and Cronbach’s alpha value was calculated as 0.93 (19).

Self-Handicapping Scale (SHS): The original version of this form was developed by Jones and Rhodewalt, and it was adapted to the Turkish culture by Akin (28). It was made up of 25 items measuring single dimension. The lowest score which could be obtained from 6-stage Likert type scale was 25, whereas the highest was 150 points. High points obtained from the scale indicated high tendency of the individual in verbal and behavioral self-handicapping. Consistency indices obtained by corrective factor analysis results which was performed to examine validity of scale structure were Ï‡2=50.23, RMSEA=0.037, NFI=0.98, CFI=0.99, RFI=0.97, GFI=0.97, AGFI=0.94. The inner consistency safety coefficient of the scale was 0.90, and repetition of test safety coefficient was determined as 0.94 (28).

Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI): The latest form was standardized in Turkish and validity and reliability study was performed by Atay (29). It is composed of 6 subscales as authority (NA), exhibitionism (NI), exploitation (NE), self-sufficiency (NSS), demanding (ND), and superiority (NS). Each item in the scale had two proposal and it was requested from participants to mark the one which was most suitable for them. According to answer key, one proposal received 0 point, and the other 1 point. Atay reported that Cronbach’s alpha value was 0.63 in safety analysis of the 16-item form (29).

Multidimensional Perceived Social Support Scale (MPSSS): It was developed to perform a subjective evaluation in social support which individuals obtained in three different sources (family, friend, a subjective person) by Zimmet et al. (30) Eker et al. (31) performed the Turkish validity and reliability study. It was a 7-point Likert type, and consisted of a total of 12 items. Each subscale was measured by 4 items, and summation of these points made up the total point of the subscale. Total point of the scale was obtained by summation of points in the three subscales. The safety analyses revealed that Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for subscales were between 0.80 and 0.92, and it was 0.83 for the total scale (31).

Data Collection

Data were collected in the spring period of academic calendar year of 2014-2015. Participants were informed about how to fill the measurement tools before application. Students filled up the scales in a single session, in classes and approximately in 15 minutes.

Statistical Analysis

Collected data were analyzed by using SPSS 22.0 statistical package program. Data analysis techniques were performed by using descriptive statistics, Pearson Moments Multiplication Coefficient (PMMC), multiple regression analysis and independent t test.

In the study, primarily it was analyzed whether data obtained from measurement tools satisfied assumptions of regression analysis. It was determined that data were normally distributed. As correlation coefficients between predictive variables were between -0.24 and 0.31; it was determined that multi-collinearity was not a problem (Table 1) (32). Additionally, it was determined that model parameters were significant as the result of F statistics calculated by regression analysis (F=25.16, p<0.01). The level of significance was accepted as p<0.05.

The mean score of narcissistic personality inventory of participating females was 5.33±2.99 (range=0-16) points; the mean anxiety sensitivity index was 28.89±13.28 (range=0-66) points; the mean of perceived social support was 65.19±12.83 (range=12-84); the mean of self-handicapping scale was 80.94±11.83 (range=40-106) points. In the same order, the mean scores (and ranges) in males were 5.70±2.74 (range=1-15); 26.76±13.11 (range=2-59); 62.92±12.83 (range=22-84); 80.73±11.12 (range=47-113) points.

The correlations between self-handicapping and predictive variables were evaluated by using Pearson Moments Multiplication Correlation and the results are shown in Table 1. According to analysis results, there were significant relationships between PFI and authority (r=0.12, p<0.05), self-satisfaction (r=-0.21, p<0.05), and demanding (r=0.24, p<0.05) subscales of Narcissistic Personality Inventory, no significant correlations were determined between PFI and dimensions of superiority (r=-0.05, p>0.05), exhibitionism (r=0.05, p>0.05), and exploitation (r=-0.01, p>0.05). Significant correlations were determined between self-handicapping and anxiety sensitivity (r=0.47, p<0.05), perceived social support (r=-0.22, p<0.05), and academic means (r=-0.20, p<0.05). Points that participants obtained from subscales of NPI, ASI-3, and MPSSS were evaluated to find out how much academic means predicted self-handicapping tendency by multiple regression analysis. It was determined that total variation in regression model for self-handicapping was 31% (F (9-482)=25.16, p<0.01). While authority (ß=0.08, p<0.05), self-sufficiency (ß=-0.18, p<0.01), and demanding rights (ß=0.11, p<0.01) characteristics of narcissistic personality contributed significantly to the model; superiority (ß=-0.02, p>0.05), exhibitionism (ß=-0.01, p>0.05), and exploitation (ß=-0.03, p>0.05) had no significant contribution to the model. Moreover, anxiety sensitivity (ß=0.39, p<0.01), social support (ß=-0.11, p<0.01), and academic means (ß=-0.19, p<0.01) contributed significantly in the model. According to standardized regression coefficients, predictive variables relative order of significance were anxiety sensitivity, academic means, self-sufficiency, social support, demanding rights, and authority.

Independent t test was performed to participants to evaluate the difference between gender, university/graduate variables and self-handicapping tendency. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 3 and Table 4. According to independent t test results, no statistically significant difference was determined between self-handicapping scale of females and males (t=0.18, p>0.05). However, it was determined that mean points of self-handicapping of university students were significantly higher than the participants attending graduate programs (t=4.61, p<0.01).

DISCUSSION

In the present study, it was examined that at what level anxiety sensitivity, narcissistic personality tendency, perceived social support, and mean of academic points explained self-handicapping in university students. In our study, the most important predictive for self-handicapping was determined as anxiety sensitivity. When previous studies were reviewed, it was reported that anxiety sensitivity played a role in development of anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder, hypochondriasis and alcohol and substance abuse (33). Anxiety sensitivity is one of cognitive mechanisms present in anxiety development (33), and individuals may experience anxiety sensitivity in social, physical, and cognitive aspects (34). When the individual told he/she had some psychological and physical what would help him/her? self-harming? to explain why he/she obtained unsuccessful results rationally (5), and it would provide an alternative explanation for unsuccessfulness, so that it could have a self-protective function. Therefore, high anxiety sensitivity would work as a strategy for self-handicapping for the individual. This condition helps us to understand the role of anxiety sensitivity in development of self-handicapping tendency.

No significant correlation was determined between narcissistic personality and self-handicapping in our study. This finding of our study was contradicting with study results indicating significant correlations between these two structures (35,36). However, authority, self-sufficiency, and demanding rights characteristics of narcissistic personality explained significantly self-handicapping. According to data we obtained, while increases in dimensions of authority and demanding rights in narcissistic personality affected self-handicapping positively, increase in self-sufficiency dimension had negative effects. Individuals with strong authority characteristic believe that they have a great skill to affect others, and the right to be the leader. Therefore, they expect to be the dominant side, to control others, and to be continuously in the first line (37).Individuals with strong demanding right characteristic see themselves as an exceptional and special person. Due to this special condition they attribute to themselves, they expect to be presented their wishes such as success, and attention. However, there are generally great discrepancies between the things that the individual believes he/she deserves, his/her expectations form other people, and reactions they received. This condition causes the individual to behave hostile against criticisms and may lead to a serious conflict (37,38). In mean time, they can shake the perceptions related to his/her ego. Self-handicapping behaviors observed in individuals with narcissistic personality characteristics functions as a protective, self-denial mechanism rather than showing other his/her value and grandiosity (39). Therefore, the individual, who is trying to cope with anxiety caused by emotions of damaged ego image, and overt frustration and anger, may show self-handicapping behaviors as a defense mechanism. Thus, he/she rationalize the discrepancy between the expectations and what he/she gets. The individual with strong self-sufficiency tends to form a perfect, ideal, and non-dependent ego perception. By development of idealized ego development, characteristics of dominance, success-orientation, and self-esteem are also similarly increased (37). Self-handicapping behaviors of the individual are generally observed when the individual suspects of his/her skills. By getting stronger in self-esteem, suspects of the individual from his/her skills are decreased and thus self-handicapping thoughts and behaviors may be decreased.

In the present study, a significant relationship was determined in the negative direction between academic mean and self-handicapping tendency. This indicated that self-handicapping thoughts and behaviors were more intensely observed in students with low academic success. This result supported results obtained from advanced studies (40-42). The correlation between these two variables was interpreted as reflections of protective efforts for self-respect (6,42). At any age, academic success is one of the most important indicator of personal performance for an individual who is attending a school. Therefore, students can structure self-values in academic competence. While high points cause students to feel more valuable, low points may stimulate the emotion of worthlessness (43,44). The individual who avoid from incompetence emotion and ego damage due to academic failure, tries to find an explanation for the incompetence. If he/she is unable to find a rational explanation for the incompetence, then he/she may refer to self-handicapping behaviors too protect his/her self-respect. Therefore, students with low academic success may shoe self-handicapping behaviors such as leaving studying to the last minute, studying less, and postponing more than successful students (42,45).

According to results of our study, perceived social support level can significantly explain use of self-handicapping mechanism. According to this, as perceived social support is increased, strategies and behaviors for self-handicapping are decreased. This result was similar to the finding reported by Wezyk (46) indicating that there was a significant relationship in negative direction between social support and self-handicapping.One of the factors directing one to self-handicapping is social concern. Impression of the individual on others and feedbacks he/she receives from them form the most important part of his/her ego. Therefore, individuals self-handicapping try to manage evaluations and perceptions of others about him/herself, and the desire to be perceived as competent and valuable by others becomes an important motivational source for self-handicapping (47). Individuals with strong social supports do not have any uncertainties about how others has seen them. They know that they are important for their families and friends, so they need self-handicapping strategies less often. Additionally, high level of perceived social support affect self-esteem positively (48). Under threatening conditions, choices of ego protective mechanisms are related to self-respect. While individuals with higher self-respect take higher risks, individuals with low self-respect try to avoid risks (49). Thus, self-respect increased by presence of social support sources will decrease need of individuals for self-handicapping, so that they can take more responsibilities.

In our study, no significant difference was determined between genders and self-handicapping. While some studies supported our results (50), there were studies indicating that women had higher self-handicapping levels (51) or males had higher self-handicapping levels (52). In our study, self-handicapping tendency among graduate students was determined lower than that of university students. Students attending graduate programs had generally higher academic score means, sufficient level of Academic Personnel and Graduate Program Entrance Examination (ALES), and foreign language score, which showed that they were academically successful. If we considered that as academic success was increased, so the self-handicapping was decreased, then this would explain why graduate students had lower self-handicapping tendency.

The limitations of our study are small sample size, and study results have been obtained by subjective statements of participants. Other limitations may be named as non-evaluation of relationship self-handicapping and anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and personality characteristics other than narcissistic personality. These variables have been excluded so as to limit the subject. In further studies, it is recommended to study self-handicapping tendency longitudinally. Individuals may damage themselves by some behaviors such as examination anxiety, academic postponing, low lesson success, and absenteeism. Therefore, it will be helpful to investigate self-handicapping in selected sample groups at different educational levels. Moreover, it will be helpful to investigate self-handicapping in groups having depression, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse at clinical level, and also in individuals with different personal characteristics.

Conflict of Interest: Authors declared no conflict of interest.

Financial Disclosure: Authors declared no financial support.

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