Girls with umbrellasAn expectation is a belief about what will happen in the future.

What is an Expectation?
Expectations frequently guide behavior and make it easier to predict what will happen next. People can develop expectations about a wide range of things. Examples of expectations include the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow or the assumption that your boss will give you a raise in six months. Expectations are determined by a combination of experience, cognitive processes, communication with others, and cultural norms. For example, if your boss gives you a raise every six months and indicates that he or she is pleased with your performance, you are much more likely to believe you will get a raise than if you have never gotten a raise or have been recently disciplined at work.

Expectations serve as hypotheses about the future and can be false. Life history, mental illness, and other issues can increase the likelihood that a person develops false expectations. False expectations can have a negative impact on a person’s well-being. For example, a person with anxiety might develop catastrophic and fear-based expectations that are not based in reality but that compel them to take drastic measures, such as refusing to leave their home or avoiding contact with other people.

Expectations and Psychology
Expectations provide people with important guidance about how to behave. After all, if you believe the sun will not come up tomorrow, you have little reason to get your work done or to go to bed on time. Thus an ongoing problem of false expectations can alter behavior and interfere with social life. While false expectations are not in themselves a mental health problem, the inability to accurately form hypotheses about the future can be caused by a variety of issues, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

Expectations can also influence future outcomes. For example, a person who believes his or her next relationship will be abusive might be less likely to actively seek out a healthy relationship. A person who has a false belief that he or she will get a promotion at work might not work as hard or accurately assess his or her job performance.


  1. Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is expectation confirmation? About.com Psychology. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/eindex/g/expectconfirm.htm
  2. Meinecke, C. (2011, June 29). Are lowered expectations the key to happiness? Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/everybody-marries-the-wrong-person/201106/are-lowered-expectations-the-key-happiness

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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