Expectancy Theory

Expectancy Theory

Expectancy Theory Jonathan Poland

Expectancy theory is a motivational concept that suggests people are motivated by their beliefs about the relationship between their efforts and their performance, as well as their beliefs about the potential outcomes of their performance. According to this theory, individuals are motivated to engage in a particular behavior when they believe that their efforts will lead to successful performance, and that successful performance will result in desirable outcomes. In other words, people are motivated by their expectations that their actions will lead to certain results. Here are some examples.

Optimism is a tendency to think about the positive side of things. Optimists have a favorable view of calculated risk taking such that they believe that effort and initiative will be rewarded. According to expectancy theory, this would produce motivation.

Role Models
Expectancy theory is based on the belief that effort produces performance and performance produces desirable outcomes. In this context, positive role models that have worked hard to improve their performance who are then rewarded for all this effort will increase motivation. Likewise, role models that fail somewhere in this model will decrease motivation. For example, parents who work hard to earn a high income who are nonetheless unhappy and uninspiring people may decrease the motivation of children to participate in similar lines of effort.

Locus of Control
Locus of control is the degree to which an individual feels that they define themselves and are able to change the world. Individuals with a low locus of control feel like victims of circumstances, systems and competition. According to expectancy theory, such individuals are unlikely to feel motivated.

Mediocrity is an uninspiring state of existence whereby an individual seeks only safety, security and entertainment. Such individuals avoid risk at all cost and also may seek to prohibit risk taking and punish risk takers. The mediocre can be motivated up to the point of being fed, safe and entertained but feel zero motivation to do anything else. This can be described with expectancy theory as low valence whereby individuals feel that things such as adventure, experiences, self-expression, exploring brave ideas, making the world a better place and self-fulfillment have no value.

Gamification is the process of making things feel like games whereby individuals are constantly rewarded for effort and performance. This is likely to increase motivation towards a task. Overexposure to games could theoretically decrease motivation in real life as expectations for instant rewards for every effort are quickly disappointed in the real world.

Self-efficacy is confidence in your character and talents. According to expectancy theory this would dramatically increase motivation as you believe efforts are rewarded.

Personal Resilience
High expectations can quickly lead to disappointment such that personal resilience is likely to greatly improve motivation over time. An individual who believes effort produces great rewards may be surprised at how many problems occur before rewards are realized. Personal resilience is the ability to push through problems and stress without loss of enthusiasm.

Expectancy theory has the following formula, but it can’t be validated with the scientific method because it isn’t possible to measure beliefs accurately

  • Motivational Force = Expectancy × Instrumentality × Valence
  • Expectancy = Belief that effort produces performance
  • Instrumentality = Belief that performance produces outcomes
  • Valence = Belief that outcomes are desirable
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