Introducing an EXperimental Paradigm to investigate Expectation Change (EXPEC)

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2018 Jun;59:92-99. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2017.12.002. Epub 2017 Dec 12.


Background and objectives: Dysfunctional expectations are considered to be core features of various mental disorders. Clinical observations suggest that people suffering from mental disorders such as major depression tend to maintain dysfunctional expectations despite expectation-disconfirming evidence. Surprisingly, this clinically relevant phenomenon has not yet sufficiently been investigated in empirical studies. Therefore, we developed an experimental paradigm to investigate expectation change vs. maintenance, and the first step to test its validity is to apply it in healthy individuals.

Methods: After conducting two pilot studies (n = 28; n = 37), the present study systematically examined whether it is possible to change healthy individuals' (n = 102) task-specific and generalized performance expectations through expectation-disconfirming experiences. Using a standardized instruction, we initially induced non-positive expectations regarding participants' ability to successfully work on an unknown test. Then, participants received standardized performance feedback that either confirmed or disconfirmed their expectations before assessing participants' expectations again after completing the Test for the Measure of Emotional Intelligence.

Results: Results indicate that expectation-disconfirming feedback led to a significant change of both task-specific and generalized performance expectations. There was no expectation change in the expectation-confirming condition.

Limitations: As the present study examined expectation change among healthy individuals, the next step is to apply this paradigm in a clinical sample and to examine whether expectation change is less likely among people suffering from depression or other mental disorders characterized by dysfunctional expectations.

Conclusions: Focusing more rigorously on expectation maintenance among people with mental disorders could enable therapists to develop expectation-focused interventions aiming at enhancing expectation change.

Keywords: Behavioral experiment; Expectation maintenance; Expectation persistence; Expectation violation; Immunization.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult