Hidden Obstacles in the Mass Culture of American Legal Education: An Empirical Analysis

27 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2014 Last revised: 8 Feb 2014

Date Written: 2007


In 1978, Edward E. Jones and Steven Berglas developed the term "self-handicapping" to describe a process wherein individuals protect their self-image of competence by proactively arranging for adversity in specific performances. Jones and Berglas described self-handicapping as a set of behavioral strategies employed before a performance that permits the individual to avoid receiving information that threatens self esteem. Empirical studies of competitive athletes validated Jones and Berglas' suggestion that "self-handicappers are legion in the sports world, from the tennis player who externalizes a bad shot by adjusting his racket strings, to the avid golfer who systematically avoids taking lessons or even practicing on the driving range." In their 1984 empirical study assessing twenty-seven members of the Princeton University Men's Swimming Team, Frederick Rhodewalt, Andrew Saltzman, and Jerry Wittmer described self-handicapping through the hypothetical of a tennis player:

Consider the tennis player who is so busy that he or she fails to find time to practice before an important match. This individual is trading on the belief that practice is a contributing cause of good performance. In the face of defeat, it is difficult to question the person's tennis ability because of the equally plausible excuse of lack of practice. In other words, we discount the extent to which we infer that any lack of ability caused the loss because of the presence of the inhibitory cause - lack of practice. In the event of a victory, the attribution to the player's ability is augmented because it occurred in spite of the fact that the person failed to practice.

Suggested Citation

Dunham, Catherine Ross, Hidden Obstacles in the Mass Culture of American Legal Education: An Empirical Analysis (2007). Oklahoma City University Law Review, Vol. 32, 2007, Elon University Law Legal Studies Research Paper 2014-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2386180

Catherine Ross Dunham (Contact Author)

Elon University School of Law ( email )

201 N. Greene Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
United States

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