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This lesson discusses how our expectations about a task and the value we place on our goals influence how we behave. You’ll also have a chance to consider some surprising ideas about success and failure.

What Do You Expect?

Okay, you’ve just decided to watch this lesson on the expectancy-value theory of motivation, a topic relevant to psychology.

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Let’s start off with a few questions for you to ask yourself:

  • Do you expect that you will understand this video lesson you are about to watch?
  • Have you watched other lessons in the past and gained something from them?

Perhaps you’ve watched a lot of video lessons before and understand all of them, so you feel fairly confident that you’ll end up learning something. Or maybe you’ve watched some lessons you understand and others you don’t. As a result, you’re really not sure how this will turn out. Or, if you are completely new to video lessons, you don’t know what to expect at all.These types of questions are important to the expectancy-value theory of motivation, a way to explain why people choose certain behaviors over other behaviors that assumes people are primarily goal-oriented. This theory helps those working in psychology and other fields to better understand why a person chooses to act in a certain way.

Short-term Goals

If you are a student in high school, you may find yourself thinking that much of what you do, you do because someone else has told you to do it, not because you really want to do it.

So, now let’s consider some questions beyond just whether you think you will understand this lesson.

  • Is there a reason you are watching this right now, such as curiosity, the need to understand a topic for a class, or being assigned to watch this?
  • What will you personally get out of learning this information? To put it another way, what goal is watching this lesson helping you to achieve for yourself?

If you’re a bit stuck and can’t really answer, let’s look at these questions another way. Perhaps you believe that if you learn this information today, you will get a chance to spend time with your friends later or some other benefit. Or maybe in the short-term, your goal is simply to comply with a teacher or parent who has told you that this is a subject you must learn so you don’t experience punishment.The expectancy-value theory of motivation would suggest that your beliefs about why you are performing a certain task, like watching this lesson, are very important to you ultimately experiencing success in your life.

In this case, psychologists think of success as achievement in school, on the job, and even with your friendships and relationships.

Long-term Goals

But what about the goals you have for your life out in the distance? Do you believe that education has the potential to get you something that you want down the road?Let’s say you really value your freedom and independence, and that is incredibly important to you. You like the idea of being more in control of your life than you are now, and it motivates you.

If you believe that studying will help you gain greater freedom and independence, you’re probably more likely to work hard at studying. So how might studying get you more of what you really want?If getting an education helps you to earn money of your own, this could make it possible for you to choose more for yourself about what your life is going to look like. Considerations like whether you can live on your own, what activities you can enjoy, and how you spend your time are all possible ways that earning your own money could impact your future. That’s an example of a long-term goal, where you can see that somewhere down the line, the effort you put in now is valuable and worthwhile.The expectancy-value theory considers short- and long-term goals as important factors in whether you will be motivated to actually perform certain tasks, from small tasks, like watching a video lesson, to big tasks, like completing high school.

Expectations of Success

What if, at the start of this lesson, I told you I expect that you’ll do really well with understanding this lesson? What if I said the reverse, that it will be difficult, and you will really struggle?These are additional factors that will affect how you actually experience the task of learning this information. The expectancy-value theory suggests that if you believe you are more likely to achieve a goal, you are more likely to actually be successful.

In addition, if a teacher believes you will achieve certain goals, you may also be more likely to achieve them. However, if you or I really don’t have a lot of confidence in your abilities, you may find yourself affected by this expectation.

Fear of Failure

This part of the theory might make it sound like it’s really important that you experience lots of success, to help you build your confidence. Perhaps this even makes it sound like everyone should just tell you you’re doing great all of the time, to help you feel like you can achieve anything.Actually, that’s not what the theory suggests. Although confidence in our abilities is an important factor in working toward our goals, there’s also something else that we may not always realize works in our favor.

Some interpretations of the expectancy-value theory suggest that a little bit of failure is not such a bad thing. Sure, you want to experience the satisfaction of succeeding at what you set out to do – and a good deal of this success is helpful – but you also don’t need to succeed all the time to end up achieving your goals in life.In fact, a strong fear of failure is not particularly helpful. It’s better to have a strong drive to succeed combined with a willingness to sometimes fail.

This doesn’t mean allowing yourself a free pass to fail your classes or to take risks that don’t serve your best interests. Instead, this means that if you try hard, and something doesn’t work out exactly as you’d hoped, you’re not suddenly on a path to nowhere. You’re actually in a great position to learn what it’s like to persist in the face of obstacles.

If you don’t see obstacles as that unusual – they’re just something you have to overcome over time – you are more likely to get what you really want out of life.

Lesson Summary

The expectancy-value theory of motivation is a way to explain why people choose certain behaviors over other behaviors. It assumes people are primarily goal-oriented. This theory helps those working in psychology and other fields to better understand why a person chooses to act in a certain way.Among the questions that are relevant to this theory are:

  • Am I capable of this task?
  • Have I had success at a task in the past?
  • What will I get out of doing this task?

The theory suggests that a student’s perception of their abilities and a teacher’s expectations of the student factor into whether the student is successful. It’s also important whether the student feels that certain tasks are valuable and help them achieve important goals. Finally, a person is best prepared to achieve their goals when they are motivated by success but not entirely afraid of setbacks.

Learning Outcomes

Successfully finishing this video lesson could allow you to:

  • Provide an explanation of the expectancy-value theory of motivation
  • Determine the need for short-term goals
  • Comprehend the importance of long-term goals
  • Contrast the expectation of success and fear of failure

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