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The values placed on an object or event and our expectancies of performance play a large role in determining the level of effort and ultimately the level of achievement for a given activity. This lesson will detail two popular models of expectancy-value theory and provide suggestions on how to incorporate these theories into a classroom setting.


‘How did you do on that test?’ Amy asked Ron as they walked out of European history class.’I don’t know.

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I really don’t even care. I hate this subject and it’s boring. Why do I need to care about what happened 200 years ago in Europe?’Have you had similar conversations with your friends? It’s common for students to question why they have to take some required courses. When you don’t see the point of taking a class (or if you question the value of the class), you are more likely to not try hard in the class.

Definition and Concepts of EVT

The expectancy-value theory, developed by Dr. Martin Fishbein, was created in order to explain and predict an individual’s attitude toward objects and actions. The concept of expectancy represents the idea that most individuals will not choose to do a task or continue to engage in a task when they expect to fail.

Value refers to the different beliefs students have about the reasons they might engage in a task. The expectancy-value theory has three basic components: belief, value and expectations.First, individuals respond to information about an object or behavior by developing a belief about it. If the belief already exists, it may be modified by new information. Next, individuals assign a value to each attribute that a belief is based on.

Finally, an expectation is created or modified based on the calculation of beliefs and values.Let’s go through an example to clarify these components. Mark has to choose a PE elective in college.

He chooses tennis because he remembers playing tennis as a child and enjoying it. On the first day of class the instructor runs through all of the basic swings and allows students to practice in a relaxed environment. Mark calculates that tennis was a good class to choose. His belief was positive; he attributed this to enjoying the sport of tennis previously.

His values were reinforced with the enjoyment of the first class and he expects the class to be enjoyable for the duration of the semester.

Diagram of the model of need for achievement
Model of Need for Achievement

Models of EVT

There are many uses and models of the expectancy-value theory, and we will cover two in detail today. The first is a model of need for achievement by Covington and Roberts. It is used to describe four different approaches to achievement. This model suggests that there are four types of students and ways of approaching achievement tasks.

The success-oriented student is high in motive for success and low in fear of failure. These type of students would be highly engaged in achievement activities and not be anxious or worried by performance. Looking diagonally, we have the failure-avoiders. They are high in fear of failure and low in motive for success. These are the students who are anxious and attempt to avoid failure by procrastinating and using other self-handicapping strategies.

Moving to the off-diagonal cells, we see over-strivers who are high in both motives and work very hard at achievement, but also feel very anxious and stressed because of fear of failure. Finally, we have failure-accepters. These students are basically indifferent to achievement, although this indifference may be due either to lack of concern and caring or active anger and resistance to achievement values. Where do you think you and your friends fall in this spectrum? It may change depending on the activity or class.The second, popular model is by researchers Eccles and Wigfield.

This social-cognitive perspective incorporates the social world, cognitive processes and motivational beliefs toward achievement behaviors. Let’s go through each part of this model using a diagram.

Diagram of the social cognitive perspective
Social Cognitive Perspective

The social world consists of cultural milieu, which is specifically gender roles and stereotypes. Socializers’ beliefs and behaviors consist of parents, peers and teacher beliefs. Then we also have prior performances and events in this context.

In the cognitive processes area, this consists of a learner’s perception of their social environment and interpretations and attributions for past events. Moving on, motivational beliefs include affective memories, which determine how much of a value one will place on tasks, and the goals, judgments of competence and task difficulty, which directly relate to expectations placed on the objects or events. One’s achievement behavior is directly related to how these factors of social world, cognitive processes and motivational beliefs interact. Achievement behavior are things like choice, persistence, quality of effort and cognitive engagement.

Differences Among Learners That Impact EVT

Self-perception plays a big role in expectancy-value theory, so we need to be aware of development differences that will alter the models we have discussed. Research has consistently shown a decrease in the level of self-perceptions of ability as children move into adolescence.

In particular, the levels decrease the most when students move into middle school.Gender and ethnic differences will also impact a learner’s level of achievement, expectancy and value toward a task. For example, research indicates that males have higher self-perceptions in math and sports (two activities that are stereotyped as being masculine), whereas females have higher self-perceptions of their ability in domains that are usually stereotyped as being feminine (such as reading, English and social activities). There is a need to understand these differences in order to apply these models in learning situations.

Males have higher self-perceptions in math and sports
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