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The Expectancy-Value Theory of Motivation

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  • 0:05 What Do You Expect?
  • 1:04 Short-term Goals
  • 2:19 Long-term Goals
  • 3:28 Expectations of Success
  • 4:06 Fear of Failure
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

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. 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?

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