Exploring the moderating roles of expectation-bias belief and the ambiguity of stimulus effects on expectation effects

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Expectations about an upcoming experience often bias the actual or perceived experience later, a phenomenon known as the expectation effect (or bias). However, this phenomenon does not happen all of the time. Previous research shows that the level of belief one has that their expectations bias their experience moderates the influence of expectation effects on experience. However, research findings supporting this moderation conflict. Early research found that people higher in the belief that expectations bias their experience tend to correct against expectations and experience less expectation effects than people who are lower in such beliefs. Newer research found the complete opposite; people higher in belief that their expectations bias them experienced more expectation effects than people lower in expectation-bias belief. To explain these opposing patterns of results, the current thesis explored the possibility that the ambiguity of stimulus effects moderates the effect of expectation and expectation-bias belief on experience evaluations. Thus, the present thesis tested the hypothesis that people higher in expectation-bias belief would experience less expectation effects when encountering an ambiguous stimuli and more expectation effects when encountering a less ambiguous (concrete) stimuli, relative to people lower in this belief. In a reported experiment, participants were randomly assigned to either a control condition that received no expectation about the affective influence of an upcoming picture set, or a negative-expectation condition that received an expectation of negative affect regarding an upcoming picture set. Next, participants viewed the pictures and then completed measures of affect and expectation-bias belief. Statistical analyses revealed a significant interaction between expectations and expectation-bias belief in a pattern that replicated previous research by Carstens Namie and Handley (2005). However, the results did not support the overall hypothesis that stimulus ambiguity would moderate the interaction between expectations and expectation-bias belief. Explanations of the results, alternative explanations of the previous research, and possibilities for future research are discussed.




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