The Scando Review
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How expectancies impact motivation

How expectancies impact motivation

We know that there are two major factors that influence motivation – values and expectancies. In the last part, we discussed values. Today, we will talk about expectancies.

Even though it is important that one must value a desired outcome in order to be motivated to pursue a goal, value alone is insufficient to motivate behaviour. People are also motivated to pursue goals and outcomes they believe they can successfully achieve. If students do not expect to achieve successfully a desired goal or outcome, they will not be motivated to engage in the behaviours necessary to engage in it. Motivational theorists refer to these expectations as expectancies.

There are mainly two forms of expectancies, namely, outcome expectancies and efficacy expectancies. To be motivated to pursue specific goals, students must have positive outcome expectancies. It reflects the belief that specific actions will bring about a desired outcome.

Positive outcome expectancies are crucial for motivated behaviour.

Let us take an example. Suppose a student thinks that “if I study all the lessons and participate in class discussions, I will be able to achieve excellent results in the examination.” This thinking denotes positive outcome expectancies. When students think like this, they will be motivated to study and their learning behaviour will be influenced by this expectancy. In contrast, if a student thinks that “no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to pass the examination”, it is a negative outcome expectancy. Students who think like this believe that their actions have no influence on a desired outcome. It will negatively impact students’ learning behaviour. For students to engage in behaviours that facilitate their learning, they must believe that there is a connection between those behaviours and the outcomes they desire.

Positive outcome expectancies are crucial for motivated behaviour. However, they are insufficient on their own. Efficacy expectancies are also important. According to Canadian-American psychologist Albert Bandura, efficacy expectancy refers to the belief that one is capable of identifying, organising, initiating and executing a course of action that will result in a desired outcome. It means that to have a positive expectancy for success, students should not only believe that studying well can earn high marks but they must also must believe in their capability of doing the work necessary to earn excellent results. Their belief in their own capability is the most important feature of this expectancy variable.

Now, let us take a look at the factors that determine a student’s expectation for success. Prior experience in similar context is a factor that determines expectation. For example, if a student has experienced success in a particular task in the past, he or she is more likely to expect success in the future. Similarly, if a student has experienced failure, he or she is more likely to expect failure.

According to American social psychologist Bernard Weiner, the reasons that students identify for their previous successes and failures may be even more powerful determinants of expectancies. When students attribute their success to internal cause, that is their own talents and abilities or to controllable causes, for example, their own efforts, they are more likely to expect future success. If they attribute their success to external causes (for example, easy assignments) or uncontrollable causes (for example, luck), they are less likely to expect success in future. Let us take an example. If a student receives good grades in his or her project and attributes the good grade to his or her own creativity or to hard work, he or she is more likely to expect success in future assignments. This is because he or she attributed the success to controllable features to himself or herself.

When a student fails to achieve a specific goal, the motivation level will be low if he or she attributes the failure to a lack of ability (for example, “I am not good at solving mathematical equations.”). Here, the student sees his or her ability as fixed or not amenable to change. However, if a student attributes failure in terms of temporary causes such as insufficient effort, lack of preparation or lack of relevant information, motivation is likely to remain high. This is because the student knows that if he or she can correct the above causes, success could be secured.

Therefore, in a classroom context, motivation will be high among students who attribute successful performance to ability and effort, and poor performance to insufficient effort and inadequate information.

In the next part, we can discuss strategies to help students build positive values and expectancies.

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Happy Teaching!