Eccles and Wigfield’s expected value theory: what it is and what it offers

Can our beliefs about our own skills influence the end result? The motivation and beliefs we have about our skills are very important factors to take into account in education, as they condition performance and influence subsequent success or failure.

The model that supports this is Eccles and Wigfield’s expected value theory, A proposal that has helped to change the way it is taught, being aware that what the student thinks about his own ability may or may not make him achieve mastery of the subject, whether he really has learning problems or not.

We will then try to deepen this model, what are its main assumptions, its components and its importance in the field of education.

    What is Eccles and Wigfield’s expected value theory?

    Eccles and Wigfield’s expected value theory, also called the expectation value theory, is a model that has been widely applied in education, implying that it is not only the student’s own capacity and the study time that he invests which influences his success or failure at school. The idea behind this model is basically that there are both expectations and values ​​or beliefs that affect our subsequent behaviorIn other words, the academic year.

    The antecedents of this theory can be found in John William Atkinson, who in the 1950s and 1960s expounded the ideas that would be forerunners of the theory itself presented by Eccles and Wigfield.

    Atkinson knew that the motivation for success, that is, the motivation of the individual to achieve the goal that the environment or himself has set, has influenced the exercise itselfRegardless of what is objectively good or bad, he performed the tasks that led him to achieve this achievement.

    Taking this idea in the 1980s, Jacquelynne Eccles applied this idea to the field of education, considering as “successful” any aspect of university life that the school curriculum deemed necessary to learn. His expected value theory, formulated in collaboration with Allan Wigfield, argues that student achievement and final exercise choices are determined by two main factors: achievement expectations and subjective values ​​of tasca.

    When we speak of “expectations” we are referring to the confidence that the individual has in his or her own ability to successfully accomplish a given task and achieve the goal after doing it. As for the “subjective values ​​of the task”, we refer to the personal value that the person attributes to this task, that is to say whether he considers it important, useful or pleasant or, on the contrary, considers it as a waste of time, no it doesn’t matter in your college life or is very cumbersome and boring.

    According to research by Eccles and Wigfield, expectations and values ​​interact with each other to predict important outcomes in an individual’s behavior, especially in aspects such as engagement, interest, or persistence. continuous and academic performances or “performances”. Depending on your self-esteem and your motivation for doing homework, the person will be more or less engaged, develop better, or want to do homework on their own.

    We have also seen that other factors can influence a person’s motivation and development when performing an academic task. Among these, we can find demographic characteristics (for example, a different socio-economic level), stereotypes (for example, good men in a couple, good women in language), previous experiences (for example, j have suspended the first part of the partners, so the rest does not get better for me) and the perceptions of the beliefs and behaviors of others.


    By delving deeper into expectations, we can define them as the specific beliefs people have about whether they will be successful at doing and completing certain tasks that they will do in the future, both immediately and in the long term. In other words, that is to say these are beliefs about good or bad that will be a task in the future, And these beliefs influence their decision making and associated behaviors.

    For example, imagine a high school student who thinks he or she is not doing well on test-type exams. He knows he has one of those tests next week and thinks it’s not going to go well for him, even though it hasn’t happened yet. Since he thinks he will do badly on the day of the exam, he practices badly, is more mistaken and does not read all the questions well, so he has a bad mark. The bad mark isn’t because he didn’t study, but simply because he was convinced the test was going to go wrong and it happened.

    Expectations of success or failure in the future are quite related to two concepts related to an individual’s own outlook: self-concept and self-efficacy.

    On the one hand, the concept of self linked to the theory of expected value of Eccles and Wigfield implies the beliefs we have about our own abilities in relation to certain goals, In this case, the educational. In the example above, the person feels like they are bad on test type exams, so when it is their turn to answer one of them because they underestimate their actual ability , it obtains less good results.

    Self-efficacy is similar to the concept of self, but with certain nuances. This idea implies beliefs about one’s own abilities and skills, but in terms of performance more than in terms of one’s own way of being. In other words, I don’t think in terms of “I’m bad at …” but rather “my abilities at … are bad”, being more specific to each subject.

    For example, we may be high school students convinced that our math skills are very bad but very good in natural science. So when it comes to math, we hope to perform very poorly, we don’t have much hope of being successful, and we are not at all motivated to have to do homework or study for the next exam. Instead, the subject of biology if we believe we will pass it and motivates us to study. Our concept of self-efficacy in mathematics is bad and in biology it is good.

      Subjective values ​​of the task

      According to Eccles and Wigfield, subjective task value can be understood as an individual’s motivation for a certain task, whether they have high or low expectations of doing well. It is no secret that in education students have privileged subjects, which allows them to study more or better understand the concepts of some and find it more difficult to understand others. A subject that fascinates us, seems fundamental in our lives and that we consider easy will motivate us much more than what we think is a real one.

      The subjective values ​​of the task, as the name suggests, they are arbitrary, different depending on the person. Of course, there are tasks in education that may generate different interest and involvement among students (for example, solving math problems or playing prisoner in physical education), but as we l As we saw in the previous paragraph, each one assigns a different subjective value. These values ​​would answer the question “I want to do this activity and why?”

      We can identify the following types of subjective task values.

      1. Realization value

      The personal importance for our identity to be able to achieve this goal. In other words, if we consider it to be a fundamental thing for our own way of being or is it just something else that we have to accomplish because it is part of the school curriculum

      For example, if we see ourselves as people with a musical culture, no matter what we want to do as seniors, we will be very interested in what we are told about music like the great composers, musical trends, musical notation, reading scores …

      2. Intrinsic value

      How interesting the task is to us, no matter how important it is to our lives. Whether we like this task or see it as a kind of punishment.

      For example, playing prisoner is an activity of greater intrinsic value than solving math problems.

      3. Value in use

      Yes we consider that doing this task, whether we like it or that it is important for our self-concept to do it wellThis is important for our university life and our professional future.

      For example, if we want to study a science degree as an adult, we will have to learn math, biology, physics, and chemistry in high school. Whether we like these subjects or not, we will have to learn their content very well so that access to the preferred scientific career is guaranteed.

      4. Cost

      It is a waste of time, a great demand for effort, the loss of more interesting and pleasant alternatives or negative psychological experiences.Just like the stress associated with this task.

      For example, when we are doing our homework, we cannot do other things like play video games, hang out with friends, watch TV …

      Applications and discoveries linked to this theory

      This model and related research allowed us to see how expectations vary across school years and the subjects themselves within the same year. In fact, from the start of primary education, there are differences in motivation depending on the subject in question. From the age of 11, coinciding more or less with the fifth year, the types of value also vary, in the sense that one can be motivated because the subjects are interesting for the pupils to motivate because they consider them very important in his professional future .

      What there is no doubt is that motivation, whatever the type of value and the good considered in the exercise of the subjects, decreases with time, Especially in adolescence. Teens have worse expectations of their own academic performance, although it doesn’t have to be fatal, but it certainly gives them worse grades. The causes are very varied, ranging from a general loss of interest in studying to not seeing what it has to do with what they want to do.

      Ideas from Eccles and Wigfield’s expected value theory have been used in intervention programs that strive to change students’ motivational beliefs. Student beliefs influence their academic performance as we have discussed throughout the article. If they are more pessimistic, regardless of their actual skills, they will get lower grades. Therefore, from this model, we have tried to change these expectations and beliefs so that they have more motivation for study and a better view of their abilities.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Eccles, J. and Wigfield, A. (2000). Hope – Theory of the value of motivation to achieve. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 68–81.

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