Research In Progress

Self-Esteem and Rational Self-Handicapping

Abstract: In order to protect their self-esteem, agents may create or seek out performance-inhibiting obstacles to avoid negative feedback about their ability. This behavior allows agents to attribute failures to self-imposed obstacles rather than to a lack of competence. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as self-handicapping. In this paper, I model rational agents with preferences for self-esteem. This allows me to provide sufficient conditions under which these self-esteem concerned agents engage in rational self-handicapping behavior. I then consider the effects of self-esteem concerned agents in two policy relevant applications: education and tournaments. In education, designing an exam with noisier questions results in more studying by self-handicappers without discouraging other students. In tournaments, policies aimed at encouraging a particular group to show up to job interviews can result in strategic adjustment by the targeted group leading to their lower overall attendance.

Link to pdf.

Works In Progress

The Abilene Paradox: How to be too other-regarding (with Lia Quadros-Flores and Jin Sohn)

Refusing to Lose: Reciprocity in First-Price Sealed-Bid Auctions

Image Protection and Pandemic Projection (with Kathy Reed and Martin Dufwenberg)

An Experimental Approach to Rational Self-Handicapping