Newswise — Everyone learns differently from the false expectations they face in the real world. Some people have an optimistic view of life, while others have a more pessimistic view.
While psychology researchers have analyzed how predictions and expectations influence an individual’s mood and outlook in a controlled laboratory setting, researchers at the University of Miami believe that what matters most to undergraduates is I decided to use test scores to explore the ups and downs of human expectations.
“We are constantly forming expectations, whether we are conscious of it or not,” says Aaron Heller, senior author of the study and associate professor of psychology. “Whenever our expectations turn out to be wrong, it becomes a learning signal and is used to form better expectations in the future.”
While previous prediction error studies conducted in the lab used simulated scenarios, Heller and his team studied student predictive test performance while attending a chemistry course at the University of Miami. We decided to take a more naturalistic approach by analyzing the expectations of
Students agreed to share their grades from four exams taken during the semester so that researchers could collect data. After each exam, students sent Heller and his team the grade they expected to get on that exam (on a scale of 0 to 100). Small laboratory studies examining how individuals learn from violations of these expectations have shown that people exhibit a so-called “optimistic learning bias.” This means that we tend to learn more from positive surprises than from negative surprises.
In a study with students, Heller found similar results. In general, most students exhibited an optimistic learning bias of learning more when they performed better than expected than when they performed poorly. But there was another group of students who were consistently pessimistic throughout the semester.
“When more optimistic students received lower-than-expected scores, they changed their expectations appropriately, but did not overcorrect following these disappointments on the next exam. However, More pessimistic students were more likely to predict they would get lower scores on subsequent exams, even if their final grades were slightly higher than expected. It became more inaccurate to predict whether students would develop symptoms of anxiety later in life, depending on how they learned.”
Essentially, this study provides evidence that an individual’s positive and negative emotions were triggered not only by the test scores they received, but by what they expected to receive.
“Helping people develop more accurate expectations is an important treatment option for things like anxiety and depression,” Heller said.
The study, “Individual Differences in Naturalistic Learning Links Negative Affects to the Development of Anxiety,” is now online in the journal Science Advances.