Exams are starting in a couple of days, and I have found myself saying over and over again “I’m going to fail. I’m sure I’m going to fail.” It’s hard not to feel that way right now, with the pressure that is on from five exams, all of which count for 100% of the mark of their respective modules (the exams alone decide if we pass or fail each module, which in turn decides if we pass or fail the year). And of course I have high demands on myself – wanting to get a First class degree. But I am aware that sitting here telling myself I am going to fail is a very bad thing…it could even be a self-fulfilling prophecy…
Expectation is a powerful thing, both consciously and unconsciously. An experiment by Aronson (1962) looked at expectations of participants by setting some up to expect to do poorly on a task, and some to expect to do well. The participants then completed the task and half from each group were told that they did well, and half that they didn’t do well, thus confirming or denying their expectations. A “fault” then occured (actually part of the experiment) which mean the participants had to repeat the task but were allowed to change their answers if they desired. What is most interesting is that the participants in the low expectation group who actually performed well conterintuitively changed a lot of their choices. These participants expressed surprise when they were shown that they changed so many of their choices, and blamed this behaviour either on “faulty memory” or “shifting criteria of judgment.”
There has been quite a bit of research into the power of expectation on performance, even going so far as to show improved muscle efficiency in runners in a high expectation group (Stoate et al. 2012) and motor performance in high pressure tasks (McKay, 2012)! The more certain your expectancy, the more persistent you will be in your task and the better your performance (Dickhäuser et al., 2011) And you don’t even need to believe that you will ace your task; moderate and high expectations have equal benefit (Marshall & Brown, 2004).
So with all that in mind I will pass on this lovely poem that my sister sent to me. I believe this is by C. W. Longenecker.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins with a person’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.
For many a game is lost
Before even a step is run
And many a coward fails
Before his work is begun.
Think big and your deed will grow;
Think small and you will fall behind.
Think that you can and you will;
It’s all in the state of mind and belief.
If you think that you are out-classed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself
Before you can win the prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the strongest or fastest man
But sooner or later the person who wins
Is the person who thinks he or she can.
You can do it.
I can do it.
We can all do it.
Good luck to all students who are sitting or preparing to sit exams at the moment!
Aronson, E., 1962. Performance expectancy as a determinant of actual performance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social, 65(3), pp.178-182.
Dickhäuser, O., Reinhard, M.-A. & Englert, C., 2011. “Of course I will …”: The combined effect of certainty and level of expectancies on persistence and performance. Social Psychology of Education, 14(4), pp.519-528.
Marshall, M. a. & Brown, J.D., 2004. Expectations and Realizations: The Role of Expectancies in Achievement Settings. Motivation and Emotion, 28(4), pp.347-361.
McKay, B., Lewthwaite, R. & Wulf, G., 2012. Enhanced expectancies improve performance under pressure. Frontiers in psychology, 3(January), p.8.
Stoate, I., Wulf, G. & Lewthwaite, R., 2012, Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners., pp.37-41.