“Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are always creating expectations,” said Aaron Heller, senior author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Psychology. “Whenever our expectations turn out to be wrong, they become a learning curve that we use to make better expectations in the future.”
While previous prediction error studies conducted in the lab have used simulated scenarios, Heller and his team took a more naturalistic approach by analyzing students’ expectations about their test grade predictions while taking a chemistry course at the University of Miami. decided to adopt.
how expectations can hurt us
To help the researchers collect the data, the students agreed to share their grades for four exams taken throughout the semester. After each test, students sent Heller and his team what grade they expected to receive on that test (from zero to 100). In small laboratory studies that have looked at how individuals learn from violations of these expectations, the data have shown that people have what is called an “optimistic learning bias”, meaning that they learn more from positive relative to negative surprises.
Heller found similar results in his study with students. In general, most students displayed an optimistic learning bias in that they learned more when they did well than when they did poorly. However, there was another group of students who were more consistently pessimistic over the semester.
“When more optimistic students received a score lower than predicted, they changed their expectations appropriately, but did not improve as much after these disappointments on the next test. I was a little high,” Heller said. “The more inaccurate they were in what they expected overall, and how they learned, predicted whether students would develop anxiety symptoms later in life.”
In summary, the study presents evidence that Individuals’ positive and negative feelings were driven not only by the test grades they received, but also by what they expected to receive.
“Helping people have more accurate expectations is an important treatment option for things like anxiety and depression,” Heller said.
The study, “Individual Differences in Natural Learning Links Negative Emotionality to the Development of Anxiety,” is now online in the journal Science Advances.