If you’ve done cognitive psychology before then you’ll be familiar with a wide range of biases that impact our thinking, emotions and behaviours that make them less effective and lead to less desirable outcomes. In this podcast episode, we focus on Expectation Bias, how this impacts us and how to overcome expectation bias. If you enjoy learning about cognitive psychology, metacognition and the psychology behind thinking then you’ll enjoy today’s episode.
Today’s podcast episode has been sponsored by Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
What Is Expectation Bias?
None of us are strangers to the idea of expectation because these are goals or dreams placed on us by ourselves, our friends or our families. As well as the vast majority of them are artificial in the form of “should” statements. For instance, you should become a doctor, you should achieve 100% on the test and you should get married.
These very high expectations have the power to make us feel bad, worthless and undeserving of good things if we fail to live up to them. This feeling isn’t helped when those around us are disappointed and they take out their anger on us too.
On the other hand, whilst the natural solution would be to lower our goals so it’s impossible to be disappointed. You run the risk of having no goals or expectations about yourself that anything good will happen, so this means you have nothing to look forward to life. And that is really sad and might make you feel a little hopeless or lost as well.
That’s why having expectations are important but they need to be dealt with.
The reason for this is because whenever us, humans, try to make decisions we always pretend to be perfectly logical, perfectly rational and we believe we make decisions based on facts. At least that is how laypeople describe decision-making to me in the past. No, it seriously doesn’t work like that.
Especially, because these things called “emotions” and our behaviour shortcut any logical thinking processes we try to have and setup for this decision. This isn’t always bad but sometimes it is.
That’s why when it comes to us managing the difference between the actual outcomes of something and the expected outcomes is really hard, and some argue it requires real emotional intelligence.
For example, I know I have an awful RStudio statistics test coming up in January and I have some R work to do over the weekend. My expectations is relatively low to be honest, I will pass it but I don’t expect a Merit or a Distinction. That’s the expected outcome and I think I’m having low expectations on purpose to my detriment to be honest. Yet if I do get a Merit in the test then I will be amazed and really happy, but if I fail then I will seriously be annoyed and outraged with myself. As well as I’ll experience cognitive dissonance.
Then it will be a question of how good is my ability to manage this difference between a failure and my expected outcome of a pass. That’s a little made up example but the difference between those two outcomes can result in cognitive dissonance.
A very unpleasant feeling indeed.
How Cognitive Dissonance Relates To Expectation Bias?
If we cast our minds back to social psychology for a moment, cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable and awful feeling that we experience when our attitudes and beliefs don’t match our behaviours. This links to expectation bias because our expected outcome is our attitude towards whatever the outcome was of, like my statistics result, and the actual outcome is our real performance, which is a behaviour.
Therefore, because this cognitive dissonance comes from our expectations, psychologists have named this, the expectation bias because this is a specific form of cognitive dissonance. Since this is where our initial perceptions and thoughts impact our behaviour in the future.
For instance, if there was a promotion going on at work and you were certain you would get it during a very busy week where did an “amazing job” according to your boss and you didn’t get it. Then you would be extremely disappointed but if you didn’t have that expectation then it would have been a normal work week.
Another example is that if you’re doing a university group presentation (because I did mine two weeks ago) and you thought you did brilliantly and it was distinction grade. Yet you only got a Pass then believe me, you would be disappointed and seriously annoyed at your group, yourself and your marker. I know I would be, but my group was honestly amazing. Again though, if you didn’t have the really high expectations then you wouldn’t have experienced this dissonance.
On the whole, it is perfectly natural for all of us to get disappointed when we have really high expectations, desires, hopes and beliefs that certain things will happen to us. Yet the solution to this cognitive dissonance isn’t to have lower expectations, it actually comes in the form of a few different tips and tricks.
How To Overcome Expectation Bias?
We’ll look at five different ways how you could overcome the expectation bias.
When it comes to having expectations, it can be useful to go into these different areas of our lives expecting things to be different to what we expect. As well as it’s a good idea to believe that these differences will actually make us better off and not poorer. For example, I know from personal experience that our deviations from our plans make life a lot richer, more interesting and it does benefit us. Especially because I used to believe in my first and second year of my undergraduate that I would never ever like cognitive psychology research and I was extremely adamant about that, but I did some cognitive psychology research for my undergraduate and it was the best thing I’d ever done.
I also had the same expectation about never ever wanting to do my own psychology research because I hated academic research with a passion. Even though I love the project management side, so I think I hated the idea of designing a study from scratch. Now I’m running my own research project on transgender people and I’m loving it.
Overall, expect differences and see them for the amazingly fun things that they can be. They’re
interesting and the differences can sometimes be better than the original plan.
Have An Open Mind
This connects to the last tip because you need to have an open mind that these differences will be weird at times. Yet they can be as good as what you hoped for or even better. That’s what happened to me in the examples above.
Express Yourself And Carry On
Building upon this, whenever these differences pop up, tell other people how you feel because this allows you to reflect on what happened and other people can help you confront the effects this is having on you. Yet the critical thing here is to make sure you move on and that you’re open to forgetting about what happened.
For example, this happened a lot during the first two years of my undergraduate because I was useless at academic writing according to my markers. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I was flat out useless.
So I moaned and complained to my friends and my family but in the end I had to move on and I honestly did keep trying to learn academic writing. I kept barely passing but I kept trying and that kept me going until my placement when I actually learnt how to write academically.
Don’t Be Rigid
I know I have a terrible habit of whenever I focus on a goal, I always hyper-focus and that means that some of the time I do fall short and “fail”. Therefore, what I should do is I should expect what a likely outcome might look like but I shouldn’t attach a judgment to these goals and I should be more flexible in accepting them.
A good example is I have a clinical psychology essay due next year and let’s say want to complete it in a week and it’s 2,500 words. Then by the end of the week, I “only” have 1,800 words done so by the standards of my goal I have failed because I haven’t finished it, formatted it, proofed it, etc.
However, I should look at it as a win because I have still gathered all the literature and done 1,800 words. So in this example, I would have to focus more on what I have done and remove the negative judgement of the expectation.
I know this is a very autistic thing to say but this is a scary one for me.
As a result, to overcome expectation bias we should seek to create an internal environment for ourselves where our beliefs, attitudes and mental processes embrace change. This happens normally with our physical body through homeostasis but our emotions don’t do this naturally.
There is no such mechanisms for our mental processes.
Therefore, we need to create this for ourselves by focusing on the fact that these differences between expected and actual outcomes are normal. To be honest, I think it’s strange and weird if you always achieve your goals no matter what they are or how big they are. Are you a witch or something?
Cognitive Psychology Conclusion
Overall, I hate it as much as you do when we don’t achieve our goals. I love to have high, very ambitious goals and it is annoying when I fail them or I don’t do as much as I want to. That is something I am definitely realising as I continue my Masters, I simply don’t have the hours I used to have in my day.
Yet if we don’t have some strategies or ideas to overcome the expectation bias then I know from experience it can make us feel rubbish, down and like we are nothing but failures. That isn’t healthy. So please remember those tips about overcoming the expectation bias and hopefully you’ll bounce back quickly and be back to doing whatever you want and enjoying life along the way.
There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations, and actually, I think ambitious expectations help to make life more fun, joyous and it certainly gives you a few more stories to tell when you need them. A so-called failure has the power to make people laugh, appreciate you and maybe even bond over a shared experience.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s cognitive psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Cognitive Psychology References
De Lange, F. P., Heilbron, M., & Kok, P. (2018). How do expectations shape perception?. Trends in cognitive sciences, 22(9), 764-779.
Harmon-Jones, E., & Mills, J. (2019). An introduction to cognitive dissonance theory and an overview of current perspectives on the theory.
Rozsypal, F., & Schlafmann, K. (2023). Overpersistence bias in individual income expectations and its aggregate implications. American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 15(4), 331-371.
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