Outcome expectancies matter. We are not motivated to accomplish tasks and goals that we doubt we can accomplish. We lack confidence in our self-efficacy. When we believe success is beyond our ability, motivation quickly wanes and then when we encounter slight interference. Many expectancies exist beneath consciousness. We expertly hide them from outward knowledge. Yet, they energetically leap to action when failure looms, screaming in proud triumph, “I told you so. You can’t do this.” These expectations seal the outcome. Accordingly, we do as we believe we can do.
Expectation play a primary role in behavior. As Eric Berne once wrote “in general, expected behavior is likely to occur simply because it is expected” (1984, Kindle location 603). In psychology, the ability to imagine outcomes under varying circumstances is referred to as episodic foresight.
Outcome expectancies are the anticipated consequences (positive or negative) of engaging in a particular behavior. Depending on our outcome expectancies, they may motivate or discourage action.
Three Types of Outcome Expectancies
According to Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory there are three kinds of expectancies:
Situation-outcome expectancies refer to beliefs about how events are connected. A realistic construction of the future, possible interferences, and our role in those events. When these expectations are deceitfully simple, our mycotic view of how everything will turnout during the change process may be disrupted when events play out in powerfully unexpected ways.
Outcome expectancy refers to beliefs about the consequences of performing a behavior. Outcome expectancy is a prediction of how a behavior leads to a consequence. Bandura elaborates, “incidence of behavior that has been positively reinforced does not increase if individuals believe, based on other information, that the same actions will not be rewarded on future occasions” (1977, p. 192).
Self-efficacy expectations refer to beliefs about one’s ability to perform a particular behavior. Bandura explains “expectations of personal mastery affect both initiation and persistence of coping behavior. The strength of peoples convictions in their own effectiveness is likely to affect whether they will even try to cope with given situations” (p. 193).
Bandura explains that “in this conceptual system, expectations of personal mastery affects both initiation and persistence of coping behaviors” He continues, “the strength of people’s convictions in their own effectiveness is likely to affect whether they will even try to cope with given situations.
Bandura differentiates between expectancies because we can have one without the others. A person, for example, may rightly expect that a certain consequence is the reward of a particular behavior, however, they do not expect they have the skill to accomplish the necessary behavior for the reward.
Outcome Expectancy and Addiction
Researchers have explored how expectancies both lead to explorations of addictive substances and recidivism. Healthy expectation also can bolster self-confidence during recovery, motivating a successful breaking the chains of addiction.
“Alcohol recidivism continues to be a challenging issue in large part due to outcome expectancies,” argues Reesor, et al. They explain that “expectations have been extensively studied in behavioral medicine and found to affect multiple health behaviors, including alcohol consumption, smoking, and weight management” (2017).
Expectancies of the outcomes from treatment are a target for therapy. Healthy expectations, as Bandura theorized, can motivate successful recovery. However, expectations to fail, can lead to limited effort, ending in full blown relapse.
Expectations Often Lead to Relapse
T. Franklin Murphy discusses the importance of expectations of challenging events, during the recovery process as a way to prepare for high-risk situations. He warns, “the motivational pricks that pushed detox lose potency; motivation wanes and the decisional balance for sobriety adjusts. In the dark weeks and months of change, demons of relapse haunt the lonely halls.” The answer is preparation, expecting the challenges.
Murphy explains, “recovery is an epic struggle between motivation and temptation. The future teeters between success and failure, waiting to see which power prevails. Drug and alcohol abusers must prepare for these challenges, planning tactics and escapes to combat the urges. The warrior must effectively respond to high-risk junctures for recovery to succeed” (2020).
Mary Addenbrooke comments about early recovery, “immediately after a person stops. . . they probably have no idea what their expectations of themselves should be. In their addiction people lose track of who they are. The first, tentative steps without the drug have to be taken with this as a starting point” (2011, p. 116).
Most cognitive treatments utilize cognitive reappraisal to change negative expectations of failure. Positive expectations can motivate recovery. However, expectations must not be unrealistic. Unrealistic expectations create frustrations and disappointment later.
Carlos DiClemente states that “expectancies are very influential in the evaluation of decisional considerations that influence movement from Contemplation to Preparation, Preparation to Action, and Action to Maintenance” (2005, p. 96). DiClemente theorizes that expectations move us through the stages of change, either towards addiction or recovery.
Do we expect that going back to the bottle will resolve our inner emotional turmoil, or do we remember the pain that led to our desires to begin the recovery process? Our expectation of the behavior (going to the bar) will determine whether we overcome the temptation or succumb to the faulty expectations.
A Few Words by Flourishing Life Society
Some newer research questions Banduras model of outcome expectancies and behavior. “Several studies also show the possibility of a reverse causality (Williams, 2010). Perhaps, reverse causality is partially responsible for the previous findings. Then, again, maybe it’s not. the nature of scientific research is there will always be competing ideas and contradicting findings.
I suppose I will never discover the complete truth. I will just give up on all my psychology research.
The truth is, I don’t expect to find a theory that explains life. It is not the purpose of Flourishing Life Society. We explore theories and allow people to decide whether a particular theory (in whole or in part) adds to their understanding. They then can choose whether or not to implement the theory (in whole or in part) into their therapy practices or personal self-improvement work.
Addenbrooke, Mary (2011) Survivors of Addiction: Narratives of Recovery. Routledge; 1 edition.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.
Berne, Eric (1984). Games Alcoholics Play. Ballantine Books; Reissue edition.
DiClemente, Carlos, C. (2005) Addiction and Change, Second Edition: How Addictions Develop and Addicted People Recover. The Guilford Press; Second edition.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2020). Relapse Prevention. Avoiding and Preparing for High-Risk Situations. Psychology Fanatic. Published 1-29-2020. Accessed 8-30-2022.
Reesor, L., Vaughan E.M., Hernandez D.C., Johnston C.A. (2017) Addressing Outcomes Expectancies in Behavior Change. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Nov; 11 (6).
Williams, D. (2010). Outcome Expectancy and Self-Efficacy: Theoretical Implications of an Unresolved Contradiction. Personality and Social Psychology Review,14(4), 417-425.