Expectancy Value Theory defined
Expectancy is a person’s beliefs and judgments about their capability to perform a task successfully. Value is, essentially, how much a person WANTS to perform the task or values the outcome of completing the task.
The theory, in essence, is a combination of those two components:
“Do I believe I can do this?”
“How much do I really want this?”
The expectancy component, if broken down further, is a study of a person’s expectancy or probability for success. Lewin proposed some questions that extended the research knowledge such as: What is the level of aspiration? How does past history, knowledge of the task, etc. affect a person’s evaluation of their probability for success? Atkinson asked questions about whether a person is approaching success or avoiding failure and how that impacts motivation. Eccles, Wigfield and their colleagues looked at self-perception and how that impacts motivation.
How can a teacher use this? Knowing that students have a self-perception and belief about their abilities to achieve as well as place a value on the outcome can assist in making decisions about classroom activities and curriculum flow. If a teacher can take into account how the student is approaching a classroom task, what they are feeling as they approach the task and how well they think they’ll do; it may impact how the task is presented. Also, if a teacher is considering how much the completed task/outcome actually means to the student, it may impact how the task is presented to the student. And finally, if a teacher is aware of the approaching success/avoiding failure concept, it can definitely impact how tasks are presented and how feedback is given to the student.

What the theory is all about!

Example of Expectancy Value used in an advertisement.

Case Study:

Heres one to think about:
  • You're looking for a job when you finish your Psych degree. You see an ad for one that pays $40,000 and one that pays $60,000. Classic behaviourism would say youd go for the big money but according to Rotters social learning theory theres something that behaviourism leaves out: What if you think you havent got a hope of getting the job thats offering $60,000 but a good chance of getting the $40,000 one? So if you think your chance of getting the big job is 50/50 Rotter would say that mathematically its worth $30,000 to you, whereas if you think youre a shoo in for the other job (i.e. a 100% likely to get it) then that job is worth $40,000 to you. So the lower paying job has a HIGHER EXPECTED VALUE.

Related Articles

Bembenutty, Hefer (2008). Academic delay of gratification and expectancy value. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, p193-202.
This author seeks to explain and describe the behaviors of individuals who choose to maintain focus on their academic pursuits rather than to delay this work in favor of immediate gratification and other attractive, alternate ways to spend their time. Bembenutty cites data from a study (Bembenutty & Karabenick, 1998) that studied groups of students exhibiting delayed gratification tendency. This study reported higher motivation, self-efficacy, resource management skills, and various other skills and attributes common in proficient learners. A strong correlation was determined between the likeability of the task, the perceived importance of the task, and level of gratification sought. This reinforces the expectancy-value theory by providing substantive proof that if the student expects to achieve the task and values said task, the student will put forth more effort and be successful.

Wigfield, A. & Eccles, J.S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, p68-81.
“Achievement motivation theorists attempt to explain people’s choice of achievement tasks, persistence on those tasks, vigor in carrying them out, and performance on them”(Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996; as cited by Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). Within the model, these authors reinforce the link between history of performance, personally held beliefs about ability, and future performance capabilities. Positive and successful history of success in tasks leads to feelings of self-competency. In this longitudinal study, children were found to have different expectations, self-concept, and interest depending on the subject (math, English, etc.). Ability related beliefs trended downward beginning in late elementary school and continuing down into middle school. Explanations offered include (1) students understand feedback better with maturity and therefore gain a more realistic view of achievement. (2) Feedback becomes more evaluative and competitive during those years.

What do the experts say?

Rebecca Tucker:
I have known Rebecca for three years. I worked more closely with her this year, with a History project that we completed with youth in Rhea County on Rhea County History. Rebecca was very organized in planning our meetings as we prepared the History project. She was very inclusive to each of the committee's ideas and views. I also chose her because she was a school teacher and had many real world examples to share. I was searching for classroom examples from "yesterday's" youth.

Bio: I began my teaching career as a home economics teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman in the 1970s. The bulk of my career in education was in Sweetwater City Schools for 21 years where I was a classroom teacher in elemenatry and junior high schools and an elementary school principal. After retiring from public schools, I came to Dayton to serve as President/CEO of Oxford Graduate with a primary goal of leading the school to official recognition by the US Department of Education by receiving institutional accreditation. Accreditation was granted in 2008. I am currently the chancellor at Oxford Graduate School.

1. What are your thoughs about the Expectancy-Value Theory?

The theory appears to be individually applied. Although groups of people and individuals may affect the individual's goal setting, my understanding of the theory is that the individual is the one who determines his expectancy or goal.

Immediate applications that I see for education are:
a. Academic concepts and skills must be presented in sequence of difficulty so that the learner is successful and then is motivated for the next level. Because he has been successful intitially, he sets high expectations for success at the next level.
b. Teachers have a responsibility to plan and direct activities that lead the student to success. The personal success is a motivator for the learner.

2. One of the interesting things that we have been able to share in our group journal is work related or personal stories that relate to a specific theory. Do you have a story from the classroom or a personal story that relate to a specific theory? Think back for a moment to when you began teaching and compare it to now as far as the Expectancy and the valueof students attitudes in learning.

When I read your question, I immediately thought of Stephanie, a child I had worked with as a third grade teacher. I always treated her as if I expected that she could do the academic work. She was not set aside as a slow learner. I did not give the idea that I thought she could not do, but instead realized that while whe was not a top student, she did have abilities.

When Stephanie was a Junior in high school, she applied for participation in state-level program for students with learning disabilities. The application included responding to various personal questions including " who has influenced your life?" Her mother called to tell me about Stephanie's progress and her answer to the question on the application. When Stephanie and her mother discussed the meaning of that particular question, her response both written and verbally had been-"Mrs. Tucker, my third grade teacher. She was the first person who ever believed in me." I believe that helping a child believe "he can" is the first step to academic success.

3. Please share any other thoughts you have about the Expectancy Value Theory.

My thoughts are that a person's previous success and the influence of individuals, cultural factors (such as technology and societial values, etc) affect his self concept. His perceived concept of himself affects his reaction to a challenge--both his motivation to try to succeed and the level of intesity at which he works.

Eugene Prater

I chose Mr. Prater because he was a retired educator that could share examples from year's past. Mr. Prater was also my Psychology teacher when I was in High School so I have a lot of respect for my former teachers. I also knew being in the world of psychology he would understand the theories and theorists and provide real life examples.

Bio: I taught 34 years in public schools and still teach as an adjunct instructor. Was certified in 9 areas but mainly taught AP US History and Psychology.

1. What are your thoughts about the Expectancy - Value Theory? Will you share a story from the classroom that would be an example of Expectancy Value Theory?

Teaching is basically piecing together aspects of different educational theories that fit the needs of your general teaching situation. In other words, with different classes and individuals, diffferent things work. In other words, as far as Expectancy-Value Theory is concerned I used it when it applied to a student(s) or not. The first year I taught school I had three High School students who were very exceptionally gifted. I knew all three boys and their families. One of the boys wanted to be a research scientist but was having trouble in school because some of his teachers didn't understand or weren't able to cope with the severity of his giftedness. Donna and I worked to fill weaknesses in his educational program and his attitude toward the syestem he was working in while encouraging the boy to skip his senior year and enter college where we felt he would function better. The boy skipped his senior year and went to TTU where he graduated in 2 1/2 years with an engineering degree. He is a research scientist today. I could not get to the other two boys both of whom dropped out of school their junior year as I understand. Both of these boys layed out of school a lot and when there simply toyed with the process. One took a mid-term I gave after simply scanning the text before class and aced the test though he had been in class only a handful of classes the whole semester. I passed him but most teachers failed him based on absences. The next year I heard one of the boys was pumping gas for a living and the other was picking beans. However I found later that one of the boys (who was a cousin of mine)suddenly became motivated (what caused it I don't know) and passed through undergraduate school in three years and is a successful lawyer today.

2. Please share any other thoughts about the Expectancy Value Theory

I think sometimes using this theory can lead to a self-fulfilled prophecy. I had a student when I taught a 3rd grade class at one point who could not read and wrtite but seemed intelligent in reaction to my quetions as well as very attentive in class. At recess one day I asked his 1st Grade teacher about him. Just as she started to tell me about the boy, he walked up. I expected the teacher to stop talking about him but she simply patted the boy on the head and said little Johnny would never be able to learn much. She had had several members of his family in class in the past and none had been able to learn much. I was really disgusted and started working with the boy on reading and writing and before I was moved on up to the High School a month later he was one of the best readers in the class and could write well considering I was teaching it to him and that was definetly not my forte.

Bibliography of Resources



Biographies of Instrumental People

Dr. Martin Fishbein is credited with developing the expectancy-value theory (EVT) in the early to mid-1970s. It is sometimes referred to as Fishbein's expectancy-value theory or simply expectancy-value model. The primary work typically cited by scholars referring to EVT is Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen's 1975 book called Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research. The seed work of EVT can be seen in Fishbein's doctoral dissertation, A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of the Interrelation between Belief about an Object and the Attitude toward that Object (1961, UCLA) and two subsequent articles in 1962 and 1963 in the journal Human Relations. Fishbein's work drew on the writings of researchers such as Ward Edwards, Milton J. Rosenberg, Edward Tolman, and John B. Watson.



1886 Born in Newton, Massachusetts
1911 Earned Bachelor's Degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in electrochemistry
1911 Enrolled in Harvard Graduate School as a philosophy and psychology student
1912 Went to Giessen in Germany to study for his PhD examination; was introduced to Gestalt psychology
1912 Studied nonsense syllable learning under Hugo Munsterberg and Langfeld
1915 Earned Doctorate from Harvard after his dissertation studying retroactive inhibition
1915 Began teaching at Northwestern University
1918 Dismissed from Northwestern for a pacifist contribution to a student publication
1918 Began teaching at University of California Berkeley
1923 Returned to Giessen in Germany to study Gestalt psychology
1930 Studied the role of reward in experiments of maze running with rats
1932 Wrote the book Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men
1937 Presented his Presidential address to the American Psychological Association
1940 Chairman of Lewin's Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
1942 Published Drives Toward War in an effort to understand human drives that lead to war
1946 Tolman's latent learning experiments and other aspects of his theory were criticized by Spence and Lippitt
1949 Wrote "There is More than One Kind of Learning," a paper where he argued that learning motor skills and solving problems are governed by different laws
1949 Refused to sign the loyalty oath as imposed by the University of California Berkeley
1957 Received an APA award for distinguished scientific contributions
1959 Received an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of California
1959 Died November 19th

external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRaFaODKEqmG2gVRsFVNtJ4aVh51wcCy_LGcIhUvnPRet9WDazuEgKurt Lewin contributed to Gestalt psychology by expanding on gestalt theories and applying them to human behavior. He was also one of the first psychologists to systematically test human behavior, influencing experimental psychology, social psychology and personality psychology. He was a prolific writer, publishing more than 80 articles and eight books on various psychology topics.
Lewin is known as the father of modern social psychology because of his pioneering work that utilized scientific methods and experimentation to look as social behavior. Lewin was a seminal theorist whose enduring impact on psychology makes him one of the preeminent psychologists of the twentieth century.

external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTbVI3h1E4zd9-QhlUmm3nlreMM8iWc94iCjPnV5zFFWwmiferQyQJohn William Atkinson (December 31, 1923 – October 27, 2003), also known as Jack Atkinson, was an American psychologist who pioneered the scientific study of human motivation, achievement and behavior. He was a World War II veteran, teacher, scholar, and long term member of the University of Michigan Community.
Atkinson was a leader in establishing motivation as a distinct field of study in psychology research. His belief that scientific progress came from conceptual breakthroughs fueled his formulation and reformulation of a theory of motivation. He was one of the first in psychology to incorporate rigorous mathematical models in his theories and to use computer simulations of these models for experimentation. He also recognized the importance of measurement in science, maintaining a career-long interest in the refinement of measures of motivation by means of content analysis of imaginative thought using, for example, the Thematic Apperception Test. He is well known for establishing measures for motives of achievement, affiliation, fear, sex, risk-taking behavior, and aggression. His discipline-changing ideas were followed around the world. In recognition, he received in 1979 the American Psychological Association's highest award, the Gold Medal for Distinguished Scientific Contributions.

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Jacquelynne S. Eccles, Willburt McKeachie and Paul Pintrich Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Education, and Women's Studies, studies the role schools, families, neighborhoods, gender and ethnicity play in the ontogeny of self-perceptions of competence, task values and interests, life goals, personal and collective identities, as well as the influence of these beliefs on the life-defining choices individuals make. She is particularly interested in the ways in which gender roles and gendered social experiences lead females and males to make different choices for their lives, as well as how these processes vary across different cultural groups. Recent work focuses on: (1) the decline in adolescents' motivation, self-concept, and mental health associated with secondary school transitions; and (2) the impact of family, social class, school, neighborhood, gender and ethnicity on the development of motivation, personal and collective identities, mental health, and behavior of a large sample of African American and European American adolescents.

external image wigfield.gifAllan Wigfield is a professor and chair of the Department of Human Development and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Illinois in 1982. His research focuses on how children's motivation develops across the school years in different areas, including reading. In the reading area, Dr. Wigfield has conducted research on the development of children's motivation for reading, and how different instructional practices influence children's reading motivation. His research has been supported by grants from NSF, NICHD, IERI, and the Spencer Foundation. He has authored more than 95 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on children's motivation and other topics, including the chapter on the development of motivation in the recently published Handbook of Child Psychology (sixth edition). He has edited three books and four special issues of journals on the development of motivation, and the development of reading comprehension and motivation. Dr. Wigfield was associate editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology from 2000 to 2002 and associate editor of Child Development from 2001 to 2005. He currently edits the Teaching, Learning, and Human Development section of the American Educational Research Journal. He is a Fellow of Division 15 (educational psychology) of the American Psychological Association, and has won several awards for his research and teaching.

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Professor Vroom is an authority on the psychological analysis of behavior in organizations, particularly on leadership and decision making. His 1964 book, Work and Motivation, is regarded as landmark in that field, and his books dealing with leadership, Leadership and Decision Making and The New Leadership, are widely cited as breakthroughs in the study of organizational behavior. A native of Canada, Professor Vroom has consulted to over 50 major corporations, including Bell Labs, GTE, American Express, and General Electric.