Expectations vs Outcome

Posted on September 12, 2018

Do outcomes eventually match our expectations? Some people say that we should not expect too much because then it is easier to be disappointed. However, recent studies have demonstrated that expectations may very well translate to the corresponding desired outcomes.

A recent study examined how merely holding expectations can lead to the fulfillment of that expectation. Undergraduates were tasked to train rats to run a maze. Half of the participants were given “genetically bright’ rats and the other half was given “genetically dull” rats. The expectation here was that the bright rats would outperform the dull rats on the maze task. In the end, the results matched the expectation – the bright rats ran better than the dull rats in the maze task, and showed continuous improvements in running the maze over the next few days while the dull rats showed little to no improvement in their results.

What is fascinating in this study is that there were actually no genetic or biological differences between the rats given to either group. The researchers of this study deduced that the different expectations held by the two groups of undergraduates led them to train the rats differently in terms of how they expected the rats to perform. This phenomenon has since been named the “Rosenthal effect’ after the researcher – to show how differing expectations can lead to differing behavioural results.

A later study done on elementary children similar results to support this phenomenon – teachers were told that an IQ test had identified certain children in the cohort as “bloomers”, children who were expected to do well academically because of their innate learning potential. However, this was merely an experimental manipulation – the “bloomers” were chosen at random from the cohort and did not perform better than their peers on the IQ test. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the “bloomers” really did perform better academically and showed increases in their IQ compared to their peers. Because the teachers expected these “bloomers” to do better, it likely led them to subconsciously handle these children differently – a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy effect – and hence led to the different academic performances seen in the results.

This finding can have direct implications for parenting. Many people often hold the view that boys “are just better at maths’ than girls, or smarter. It may be true, with Miller & Halpern (2014) finding that high school boys outperform high school girls in math. But how did this happen? At younger age, girls perform just as well as boys in math and even outperform them in other academic aspects.

This could be the result of expectations. Differing expectations lead to differing methods of handling rats or children or issues, and this then leads to different behavioural outcomes. Whether it is intentional or subconscious, we should start to be more aware of how our expectations can affect the end result.


Category(s):Child Development, Life Purpose / Meaning / Inner-Guidance, Parenting, Self-Confidence

Source material from Psychology Today


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