Research Topic

Psychological Responses to Violations of Expectations

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From Pavlov's dog expecting food when hearing a bell to stereotypes as expectations about other people’s behaviour, from Bandura’s self-efficacy as expectation for success and failure of one’s own behaviour to the "predictive brain" concept in current perception theories: expectations have been a central ...

From Pavlov's dog expecting food when hearing a bell to stereotypes as expectations about other people’s behaviour, from Bandura’s self-efficacy as expectation for success and failure of one’s own behaviour to the "predictive brain" concept in current perception theories: expectations have been a central construct in different areas of psychological research. In each of these areas, specific concepts, theoretical approaches, and empirical methods have been developed to explain when and why expectations persist and when they do not. Many theories assume that expectations (i.e., conditional predictions about future events, or “if-X-then-Y” hypotheses) are likely to change in the face of disconfirming evidence: For instance, experiencing rain on a sunny day is likely to change one’s expectation that sunshine is a valid predictor of a rainless day; experiencing helpful behaviour by another person should change a misanthropist’s expectation that other people are not trustworthy, etc.

In general, “expectation violations” are defined as events that are incompatible with one’s situation-specific prediction and that should contribute to a change in expectations. However, sometimes expectations persist even though they are empirically violated. Expectation maintenance in the face of disconfirming evidence describes a phenomenon that can be observed in many different contexts: in the learning lab, the “renewal effect” shows that extinction procedures do not result in changing existing associations, but rather in learning new associations; social-psychological research on intergroup processes shows that people sometimes maintain their stereotypes about social groups even in the face of disconfirming observations; social-psychological research on person perception shows that initial information and first impressions shape one’s interactions with another person to a stronger degree than a person’s actual behaviour. Research from clinical psychology shows that depressive patients continue to be pessimistic about future events even after positive experiences. Likewise, some exposure therapies do not result in expectation change even though anxiety has decreased notably during confrontation. These examples question the general notion that expectations always change in the face of disconfirming evidence. They rather suggest that expectations can be “sticky” under certain circumstances. But what are these circumstances? And what are the psychological mechanisms that can explain why (and when) expectations persist vs. when they change after being confronted with expectation-disconfirming evidence?

The main aim of this Research Topic is to present and integrate perspectives and answers from diverse fields of psychology to these and related questions. We therefore welcome both empirical and theoretical contributions to this Research Topic. Theoretical papers should be comprehensive and take into account theoretical approaches (and empirical evidence) from one or more psychological discipline in which expectation change vs. expectation maintenance has been studied. Empirical papers should present new findings from studies on expectation change vs. expectation maintenance in one specific psychological discipline. Contributions which have the potential to provide general answers to the aforementioned questions are preferred over contributions that are informative for only one psychological discipline (and cannot be related to research on expectation violation in other disciplines).


Keywords: Expectancy violation, Persistence of stereotypes, Associative learning, Predictive coding, Placebo and nocebo effects


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