Beyond oversights, lies, and pies in the sky: Exaggeration as goal projection

Greg Willard, Richard H. Gramzow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The adaptiveness of overly positive self-evaluation is heavily debated. The present research emphasizes that costs and benefits of positive biases are contingent upon their underlying motives. Five studies explored psychological and performance correlates of the tendency to exaggerate academic performance. Students who exaggerated in a private reporting context showed greater achievement motivation and positive affect (Study 1), challenge and approach orientations (Study 2), and observer-rated composure during a stressful mock job interview (Study 3). Moreover, exaggeration predicted subsequent academic improvements. This form of exaggeration apparently reflects an adaptive tendency to project positive goals onto self-reports. In contrast, exaggeration in a more public context was associated with social desirability motives and not with positive affect, approach/challenge motives, or improvement (Study 4). Making actual performance salient (by highlighting that records would be checked) reduced exaggeration; students who exaggerated in this context did not improve over time, instead showing performance decrements (Study 5).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-492
Number of pages16
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Academic performance
  • Approach and avoidance
  • Challenge and threat
  • Self-evaluation
  • Social desirability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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