Excuses and Excuse-Makers

While people normally will use excuses after a negative outcome presents itself, others become adept at making excuses in anticipation of poor performance. The purpose, according to the authors of the 1997 book from Springer, Social Cognitive Psychology, David F. R. Carey quotes James McElroy of Iowa State University, summing up his research into the perceptions of self-handicappers by others like this: “What happens here is that if you do it often, observers attribute your performance to you, but begin to view it as part of your disposition, i.e., you’re a whiner.”

. Whether excuses are used to shift blame or improve what other people think, it may be easier for excuse-makers to live with excuses than think about living with having tried at something and failed.

Chronic Excuse Making Can Damage Relationships

Apparent-responsibility – The excuse-maker is striving to break the linkage to the negative outcome. Barone, James E. A common phrase people use when engaging in this type of excuse is “Yes, but…,” after which they elaborate on why they shouldn’t be strongly associated with the negative outcome.

Anticipatory Excuse-Making

Research discussed in the January 5, 2009 New York Times article by Benedict Carey, “Some Protect the Ego By Working on Their Excuses Early” reveals that men are more prone than women to self-handicapping, according to work done by Edward R. Hirt, a psychologist at Indiana University.

The discussion of excuses in Social Cognitive Psychology breaks excuses into two main categories.

In the short-term, excuses are merely an exercise in self-delusion, but over time, those who engage in repeated self-handicapping can damage relationships.

Chronic excuse-makers seldom fool anyone for long, with observers viewing the tendency to make excuses as a negative part of the excuse-maker’s personality. Snyder, is to move “…the source of negative feedback away from the protagonist.”

Impression Management – The excuse-maker is attempting to look good in front of someone they want to impress, or there is a gap between their real and ideal selves.

Situation Management – The excuse-maker believes an excuse might improve the outcome of some situation, salvage his/her self-image, or satisfy an authority figure.

Types of Excuses

Studies Reveal Who Uses Excuses Most and Why

And in a study by Sean McCrea, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz, Germany who was cited in the same article, it was shown that given the opportunity and the right incentive, most people will claim a handicap when things don’t go well, primarily because it helps them cushion the blow that failure can land to their self-confidence.

It Wasn't Me! Reasons for Making ExcusesExcuses are a common part of life, from the familiar “the dog ate my homework” to more complex psychological or emotional arguments over why something did or did not happen.

While most human beings will engage in making some excuses in their lives, the common Ben Franklin saying “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else,” may be more of a self-fulfilling prophesy for excuse-makers than simply avoidance or laziness. Maddux, and C. “I didn’t do it” is a common assertion of personal innocence that blames outside forces or cuts connection to group that has performed negatively. This type of excuse absolves one of personal responsibility by “cutting off reflected failure.”

Transformed-responsibility – The excuse-maker admits to being linked to the negative outcome, but tries to steer clear of responsibility. Avoiding activities or situations where one might not do well is one way of anticipatory excuse-making.

Primary Reasons for Making Excuses

Another excuse strategy, called self-handicapping, is where an individual introduces an impediment that supposedly hinders adequate performance, thus providing a ready-made place to transfer blame when things go wrong.

The California State University Classroom Management Resource website states in an article called “Excuse and Responsibility Psychology” that there are two primary reasons why people make excuses:

People are motivated to make excuses for a variety of reasons and under a multitude of circumstances, yet psychologists have begun to examine why some people become chronic “excuse-makers” as a way of coping with perceived inadequacies or fears.

McCrea goes on to say that handy excuses are also used as a way to rationalize that an individual did the best they could, and can cause a drop in motivation to improve performance on subsequent tasks by removing the potential for embarrassment.

While the definition of the word “excuse” is somewhat slippery, an excuse is generally defined as a message transmitted from one person to another that either shifts blame for some situation or occurrence away from oneself or is made to help protect one’s self-image

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