Atkinson’s expectation-value theory: what it is and what it offers

When psychologists tried to study human motivations, they came across different things to consider in order to understand them. Atkinson, in 1964, proposed expectation-value theory, based on cognitive elements.

As we will see later, this theory understands that the intention to adopt a behavior is determined by the person’s expectations of achieving an inducement (or a goal) and by the value given to that inducement.

    Expectation value models

    Many theories have tried to explain human motivations. Within them, and following a cognitivist point of view (which introduces cognitive elements in the analysis of behavior), we find models of expectation-value.

    these models they consider the human being as an active and rational decision maker. In addition, they suggest that both the behavior chosen by the person when taking action, as well as his perseverance and the same success, are linked to his expectations and the value attributed to objectives or tasks.

    Atkinson’s expectation value theory: features

    The expectation value theory was proposed by Atkinson (1957, 1964). This suggests that the intention to perform an action is determined for the expectations of obtaining an incentive and for the value given to that incentive. Atkinson relates these concepts to the need for success.

    Thus, the theory combines the concepts of need, expectation and value. He proposes that the manifestation of a behavior is the result of a multiplication between three components: the motive (or need for accomplishment), the probability of success and the incentive value of the task.

    More specifically, Atkinson suggests that the tendency to adopt successful behaviors is a joint function of a person’s motivation to succeed, their expectation of achieving it, and inversely proportional to the likelihood of achieving it.

    Components of the theory

    As we have seen, there are three essential components in the theory of the value of expectations. Let’s see what each of them consists of:

    1. Reasons

    The reasons are relatively stable dispositions or characteristics of the subject, which they make it strive to successfully solve a task and be proud of it or avoid failure (and its consequences).

    The tendency of people towards one reason or another will determine how they are involved in fulfillment tasks.

      2. Expectations

      Expectations of success they reflect the probability that the person perceives to achieve a goal or to succeed in a task, Perform a certain behavior.

      3. Value the incentive

      The incentive value of a given task is the emotional (and positive) reaction of the subject to successfully solve the task (pride). The more difficult the task, the less valuable the incentive will be for the person.

      practical example

      To illustrate Atkinson’s expectation-values ​​theory, we will give a practical example. Think of a person who goes to the gym to lose weight. The strength of the wait will be the ability to lose weight that the person considers when performing this action (going to the gym).

      The value of the incentive will be the judgment on the consequence of the action, that is, the value that the person places on losing weight (e.g. aesthetic value, a well-being reaction with his own body, etc.)

      The more positive this value is and the more likely you are to lose weight, think about the person you have, the more expectations you will have, and his cognitive process will increase motivation to go to the gym.

      Extension and derivations

      The Atkinson model was enlarged by Atkinson and Feather in 1966. This new model includes both the reason for the tendency to achieve, called the hope of success, and a negative reason, called the fear of failure.

      In addition, they integrate two basic affective states that are at the heart of the motivation process: the satisfaction or pride that accompanies success and the shame of failing at a goal.

      New contrasting explanations with Atkinson

      Following Atkinson’s theory, new theories and value-expectation models were generated. These were based on the work of the authors, although with some differences at the conceptual level and in the causal relationships between the variables.

      The new models are made up of more elaborate elements of expectation and value and with a greater number of determinants (psychological and socio-cultural).

      In addition, new models conceptualize a positive relationship between expectation and value (such as Eccles and Wigfield 2002 Expectation-Value Achievement Model). This sets them apart from classical Atkinson’s theory, which, as we have seen, established a negative relationship between expectations and the value of goals.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Covington, MV (1992). Take note: a self-report perspective on motivation and school reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.
      • Atkinson, JW (1964). An introduction to motivation. Princeton, New Jersey: Van Nostrand.
      • Miñano, P., Castejón, JL and Cantero, MP (2008). Prediction of academic performance from cognitive-motivational variables of a expectation-value model. INFAD Journal of Psychology, 1 (4), 483-492.

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