Hirt focuses on the differences between men and women when they sabotage themselves and when they deal with others who do it.
Self-handicapping occurs when people create excuses for their failures before they've tried to succeed.
"It's about how people deal with situations where their self-esteem is on the line," Hirt said.
One way to deal with a challenge is to prepare — study hard for a French test, train before a race, gather as much information as possible before one's work assignment.
But self-handicappers become so concerned about failing that, instead of becoming as prepared as possible, they focus on finding an excuse.
"For the handicapper, a solution to this problem is an obstacle or excuse that you can blame in case you fail," Hirt said. "Why didn't you get the job? Because you went to the interview drunk. Why didn't you do well at the track meet? You didn't practice that much, you had an injury."
—Laureen Fagan, "Excuses, excuses," South Bend Tribune, May 13, 2003
''This approach,'' Dr. Zimbardo said, ''has important links to ways people sell themselves short, from shyness to fear of failure. It's an apt way to call attention to how people handicap themselves. Most people can find some areas of their lives where they do this, for example, when you won't even try something unless you're sure you'll do it perfectly.''
''Some people stake their whole identity on their acts,'' he said. ''They take the attitude that 'if you criticize anything I do, you criticize me.' Their egocentricity means they can't risk a failure because it's a devastating blow to their ego.''
A major category of pathological excuse-making involves using a debilitating condition as a global excuse for any and all failures in life.
This tactic, which Dr. Snyder calls ''self-handicapping,'' has a double payoff: It cushions failures while enhancing any successes. Thus the baseball pitcher who complains of a sore arm before a game is protected if he does poorly, but praised all the more if he pitches well despite the bothersome arm.
—Daniel Goleman, "Excuses: New theory defines their role in life," The New York Times, March 6, 1984