How We Perceive Self-Deception

Men value competence, women value hard work

By Dan Schulman, published on May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

When it comes to "buying" excuses, women aren't exactly in the
market, according to a new study that explores how men and women perceive
self-deception. Men and women alike have long claimed everything from
sleep deprivation to debilitating hangovers in an attempt to excuse poor
academic, athletic or job performance. Creating a rationale for our
shortcomings, or self-handicapping, sidesteps the issue of innate
ability--or lack thereof. "Self-handicapping seems to buffer people's
self-esteem when they fail," explains study co-author Edward Hirt, Ph.D.,
a social psychologist at Indiana University Bloomington. "It's also an
impression-management strategy, a way to make other people perceive them
as competent."

The researchers posed 888 subjects with a scenario in which a
student named Chris (the gender was randomly assigned) forgoes studying
for an important exam to go to the movies. The marks Chris received on
the test varied, as did his/her reasons for slacking off. In one instance
Chris' self-sabotage is overt: s/he invites a friend to the movies. In
the other, Chris' indiscretion is subtle: a friend invites Chris to the
movies. Afterward participants were surveyed on their perceptions of

Hirt found that whether Chris was said to be a man or woman did not
influence participants' assessments. But men and women viewed Chris'
behavior differently. The study, published in the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, determined that both men and women readily
discounted ability as the cause of Chris' poor test results. But women
often viewed self-handicapping as a personality flaw: Chris was
inherently lazy, unmotivated and lacking in self-control. Male
respondents were more hesitant to condemn Chris, though many did admit
that s/he would make a poor study buddy. Women also picked up on more
obscure forms of handicapping. When Chris accepted an invitation to the
movies instead of initiating the trip, women still regarded his/her
motives dubiously, but men attributed the act to peer pressure.

Hirt's research appears to pinpoint a fundamental difference in the
qualities that men and women value in others. "Guys seem to value
competence to a greater extent. They don't really see effort as
inherently good by itself.... Women have very strong belief systems about
effort withdrawal. They pride themselves on being hard workers," says