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Expectancy theory is based on the concept of devoting effort to achieve a desired performance and result.  Furthermore, it means that there is a link between how hard an individual works and the subsequent performance.  Thus, this performance will lead to a desired end result that will satisfy their needs.  This is best shown through work done by Victor Vroom and other accredited professors where it is stated that “The desire to satisfy the need is strong enough to make the effort worthwhile” (Lawler, Porter. L., Vroom, 2009).

Expectancy was best linked to motivation by Victor Vroom, and he states “According to expectancy theory, the source of motivation is the multiplicative function of valence, instrumentality, and expectancy” (Vroom, 1964, 1995).  We performed a case study with a Pennsylvania State University student, 41 year old Jay. Jay has developed an expectancy that an education will add value to his life.  While it is a big committment he has an expectancy that it will be a good investment in the long run.  We also have included a survey among Pennsylvania State University students which identifies gender, age, marital status, state participant lives in, pass or fail expectancy, graduation expectancy, salary desires based on degrees obtained, and whether or not obtaining the degree was for self satisfaction.  Using the expectancy theory, we hope to find trends and correlations with what motivates students and what their expectancy is with a college degree.  Valence, instrumentality, and expectancy will then be individually examined based on the findings of our study.  


Edward is a 43-year-old married man with two children. He and his wife own a business together working with disabled adults. As a teenager, Edward attended a world class college after high school; however, he did not complete his degree. This happened as a result of financial difficulties. For the next twenty years, he found himself working aerospace and finally telecommunications. He made a decent living; however, the choice of work was up and down.  He married an intelligent woman and together they opened a home for adults with disabilities. His wife attended school and received her Master’s and subsequently will earn her Psy D. Meanwhile, Edward was laid off by the telecommunication company. It’s a good thing he had his small business as a safety net. Inspired by his wife’s decision to go back to school, he also wanted to complete his education. After investigating schools that featured online education, he felt uninspired by what many of the schools had to offer. He was apprehensive about many of the schools' mediocre reputations. He wanted to compete in the workforce and have an edge over others that are well educated. He searched and searched, only to be disappointed by what was available. One day his many searches led him to the PSU World Campus website. He decided to go back to school at PSU based on its world renowned reputation. His decision was also led by the knowledge that at his age he would need a career that was less physically demanding; he decided to major in psychology because since working with the mentally disabled he discovered an interest in the field and plus when he was in college he liked his psychology courses he had taken. He also feels that if he got a formal education he would be able to expand his current business. His biggest fear is being laid off as he had been so many times before; it is his perception with a higher degree he could find job security. Ultimately he is afraid that his wife will become so educated she might divorce him so he is now considering pursuing his Doctoral degree.

Chris is a 46-year-old Caucasian male that has been married twice, for a total of 25 years. From these marriages, he has produced 4 children and adopted an additional child in the second marriage. He spent 20 years in the military for which he retired with an honorable discharge. However, he resides in a foreign country, but hails from the state of Pennsylvania. The reasoning behind being in a foreign country is to ensure that his current family lives comfortably. Not like those that expect to live off the government. Like most of his fellow students in the PSYCH 484 class, Chris is attempting to complete his educational goals; yes, it is late in attempting this feat, but like they say “better late than never.”
Chris attempts to maintain a high level of interest in his studies, considering that he has many different obligations that require his attention on a daily basis. Such obligations can be shared by a few who have been fortunate enough to live as long as they have. The expectancy level is not as high as some would seem, however based on the situation, location, and how he needs to conduct business in a manner fitting to the situation at hand is the driving force of his future endeavors. 
Believing in what the future holds for him is quite low, in that he doesn't know what the future has in store for him; considering that he juggles many obligations at once is a crazy business. Getting great admiration from others that are above him is all that he looks for considering that half of his life has passed by. He believes making others happy depending on your whereabouts makes life’s ventures easier to handle. He is confident of eventually graduating from a well known college(PSU) with a BS degree, whether it will help in achieving expectancies of a world that is not sure of itself, only the future knows the answer.

Brad is a 27-year-old student at Penn State University who is in the process of working toward his master’s degree.  He is a Caucasian male with a traditional rural upbringing on a farm in the Midwest.  The online education is ideal for him because it allows him to work full time still, which he has been doing since receiving his undergraduate degree four years ago.  He is married but does not have any children yet.  He wants to finish his master’s degree before he has children because his life is already so busy and sometimes hectic.  Brad receives a lot of support from his family including his parents, brothers, and wife because education has always been important to him and his family.  Brad has a high expectancy level toward college and education.  He has always put forth a lot of effort and gave his all even though he has not always received perfect grades.  He is a believer in the harder he tries the better he will do.  He never looks for the easy way out; he believes that people that do, will one day, have it catch up with them in the end.  That is how he approaches all aspects of his life.  He is not satisfied with just the average, he always is seeking perfection.  This mentality is what motivates Brad.  He is always seeking the best he can possibly get.  He wants a master’s degree to be a step ahead of everyone and know that he has the highest possible education level for his current field of employment.  He is motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors.  Intrinsic factors include enjoying what he does and taking pride in his work.  Extrinsic factors include receiving monetary gains and praise from his employers.  Brad continues to use his own personal desire to improve himself and his education level as he works toward his master’s degree.  Furthermore, he continues to believe that through hard work he will make breaks for himself as he moves forward in his career and his personal life.  

James is a 24-year-old man who is single living in New York City. He graduated from Purdue University with an associate’s degree in Nursing. He was initially accepted into both the bachelors and associate degree program but decided he wanted to get out and start making money as soon as possible. So he choose the associates degree knowing that he would go back to school to get his bachelors as soon as he graduated. He holds his educational endeavors to a high expectancy and always strives to do his best. His family has always been supportive of his educational needs and goals, and has stood by his side every step of the way. James currently works in a 28 patient psych unit as a registered nurse and wants to obtain a higher expectancy for his professional career. He has received a position in the emergency department and is considering transferring jobs. You can see how he would need a high expectancy level to complete his education. He works a full time job and a stressful one at that, so the last thing he wants to do when he comes home from a long day at work is to sit down and do school work. This takes dedication and hard work.

James' expectancy for education was never very high until college. When he entered college, it was this time in his life when the wind hit him in the face. He knew he better put his education on high alert. This is when he adopted a high expectancy level, to the point where he graduated with a 3.67 GPA. He is very driven and dedicated to his education, and will do whatever it takes to graduate with his bachelors. He also wants to strive for his masters after completing the RN to BSN program at Penn State University.

High expectancy levels drive James, from multiple individuals, his parents being the main individuals, and his sister. He will also be the only one of two out of both sides of his entire family with a bachelor’s degree. His reward at the end of his educational journey will be masters in nursing with a concentration in infection control, along with a high paying salary to support a family.

Jay is a 41-year-old Caucasian male that has been married for 11 years and has two young children under the age of ten.  He is retired from the military and now lives in a small town in central Pennsylvania where he works part time while he continues his education as a full time student with the intentions of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership this semester.  Following graduation, he aspires to apply his degree by going back into the workforce full time.  While he does his best to apply himself to his studies, he does not want to take time away from his family and activities.

Upon graduating high school, Jay barely had the grades, let alone the aspiration, to attend college so he joined the military.  Throughout his career, he was constantly reminded of the importance of getting an education, but he often struggled to find the time and enough excuses to take on the challenge.  Once it was explained to him how many college credits he had already received for his military training, it was not long before he was back in the classroom earning his Associates Degree in Criminal Justice and a certification in Security Management which led to him obtaining a position as an Air Training Instructor in anti-terrorism.  Jay’s Expectancy towards his studies is high, he believes if he puts the time and effort into his studies he will be rewarded with good grades and eventually his desired goal of a degree.  His family also realizes how important his education is to him and while they want to spend time together, they know they have to allow him his time and space needed for him to succeed.

Jay believes that if he does well in his studies, it will lead to bigger and better things for himself and his family.  He believes if he studies and works hard he will get good grades, those grades will lead to a degree, and that his degree will eventually lead to a more attractive job.  He feels this way because of his past experiences as well as the effort his wife put forth while obtaining her Master’s degree in Accounting, which has resulted in her being rewarded by being named as a financial director for a medical supply company. 

Beyond the satisfaction of getting good grades and earning a degree, Jay is driven to do well by his wife and kids.  He wants his wife and kids to be proud of him and his accomplishments as well as again being a substantial provider for his family and avoid any potential family struggles in the future.

Samantha is a 23-year-old Caucasian female. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania and moved to Florida with her family a month after graduating high school. After moving to Florida, she received a job as a server at a local sports grill. She began working six to seven days a week and gradually began to work her way up in the company going from just server to head server to bartender within a couple of years working there. During this time Samantha, who had been highly motivated to go to college and become a psychiatrist prior to the move, took a two year break from college. After the two years of serving people who were rude, derogatory, and thought that because she was a server she was a nothing; Samantha realized she needed to get her life back on track. Not only was she working a full time 50 hour a week job but she also was working two other jobs in order to make ends meet. Her life goal was not to be a manager at a restaurant or to work non-stop in order to just make ends meet. She contacted Penn State and was accepting to Penn State World Campus without any issue due to her 3.6 GPA from her previous semester at Penn State York. Samantha believes that if she pursues her education, she will be able to have a career in which she will not only be capable of working only one job, but will be able to do so without struggling financially. She wants to be able to support a family without any worries about which bill she needs to skip in order to put food on the table.  Samantha's expectancy levels are very high for education and would be rated a 1. She believes that she is capable of performing well in academics so long as she finds the appropriate time to complete her studies. She plans to not only gain her bachelors degree in psychology but then to continue to pursue her masters and doctorate as well.

Nick is a 35-year-old adult learner who has been married to his wife for six years.  He has one child, who is under the age of one.  He works full-time as a systems analyst at a mortgage servicing company, where he has worked for six years.  This is the first white collar job Nick has held.  Prior to working at his current employer, his jobs included pizza delivery, cashiering at a sports equipment store, line materials supplier in a warehouse, and night supervisor at a security firm.  Nick holds an Associate’s Degree in Accounting, but because the degree was obtained at a college that was not accredited, he could not obtain even an entry-level job in the Accounting field. However, his wages at the security firm were enough to allow him to live comfortably as a single man, so he did not pursue further education.  After getting married, Nick’s wife, who holds a Master’s Degree, encouraged him to return to school and earn a Bachelor’s Degree to increase his job satisfaction and earning potential.  With his wife’s support, and eager to prove to himself that he can succeed at a nationally respected institute of higher learning, Nick applied to and was accepted at the Penn State World Campus in 2010.  Nick’s level of expectancy is high.  He believes that if he allocates two hours each weeknight and works at least as long as that on weekend days, he will have ample opportunity to review and understand his weekly lessons, and in turn earn good grades.  He feels that the quality of his work dips if he is on a vacation or working overtime and cannot commit as many hours to his schoolwork as he would like.  For Nick, the association between hours spent studying and earning good grades is positively correlated, which contributes to his high level of expectancy.  Nick has a strong sense of instrumentality.  He believes that if he can perform at a high level on each assignment in a course and earn excellent grades, then his final grade in the respective course will be high as well.  The Syllabus for each course, which explains grading components, grading rubrics, and each assignment’s percentage of the final grade, helps reinforce Nick’s feelings of instrumentality.  Nick’s level of valence is high.  He feels that an excellent grade in this course would justify the effort he puts in to the course.  A good grade in the course would strengthen his overall grade point average, which not only would validate Nick’s belief in his ability, but could potentially help him qualify for admission to graduate school at a later time, if he feels that further education would likely result in a higher position and also be cost-beneficial. 

Jeni is a 33-year-old Caucasian female.  She was born and raised in the Midwest in a very small rural community.  After high school, she attempted to go to community college and was more concerned with working and having fun with friends instead of taking school seriously.  After a few years she got married and had a child.  Realizing that working as a waitress was not going to help provide a good future for her family, she went back to school full-time.  Three years later, she had another son and graduated with a Bachelor's degree a year later.  Afterwards, she got a great job and was happy.  Seven years later, she had her third son and decided to go back to school again.  She quickly realized that her grades were not good enough to get accepted into grad school, so she decided to go to PSU online to get another BS degree with the hopes of getting good enough grades to get into grad school.  With the hopes of grad school on the line, she wants to get her Master's degree in Adult Education and continue on to get her PhD so that one day she can teach at a local university and be able to spend more time with her children instead of sitting at a desk 9-10 hours a day.  She currently is raising the three boys on her own, working full-time and taking 16 credit hours online through PSU.  She seems to be managing well with the thoughts that this will all be in the past one day and life will be easier.

Jeni's expectancy is high.  She believes she can get better grades this time around and will get accepted into grad school.  This is her last opportunity to continue her education.  Her financial aid will run out after one more semester and it will be to expensive for her to pay for her education without help.


The following survey was conducted at Penn State University to gain insight into what types of expectancy students have from differing backgrounds.

Penn State University Expectancy Survey.doc


Victor Vroom created the expectancy theory, and it concentrates on the concept of motivation and management. The expectancy theory assumes that behavior results from conscious choices among alternatives whose purpose it is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This theory suggest that people’s behavior at work and their goals are not as simple as once thought, and that an employee’s performance is based on individual factors such as personality, skills, knowledge, experience and abilities.

The expectancy theory is based upon three beliefs:

  • Valence - refers to the emotional orientations people hold with respect to the rewards. This is the drive for the want from an employee that is influenced by extrinsic or intrinsic satisfaction or reward.
  • Expectancy - refers to what level of confidence an individual obtains for completing the task at hand.
  • Instrumentality - refers to the perception of the reward the employee is going to receive from their superiors.

With these three beliefs, Vroom believes that an employee’s beliefs about valence, expectancy, and instrumentality interact psychologically to create a motivational force that drives employees to act in ways that bring them pleasure and avoid pain.


This case study investigates the components of motivation detailed in Expectancy Theory functional to innovative scholars cultivating academia approbation from Pennsylvania State University online World Campus. Respective coeds chronicled succinctly a portion of the juncture of intrinsic consequential scholastic ambitions.


Expectancy is a condition of the expectancy theory. It is a person's belief about their ability to perform certain tasks if they put effort into it. Expectancy is something that changes from person to person and from task to task. This is evident in the survey we conducted in which there were the same number of participants that were obtaining a degree for self satisfaction as the number who were not doing it for self satisfaction.  There are many factors that influence an individual's expectancy about certain tasks. Factors that influence this were also in our survey, such as marital status or age.  A few examples are the person's history with the task, abilities, and personal experience. A person's expectancy can be rated using a scale of 0 to 1. A person with an expectancy of 0 believes that they are positive that they can not do the task, no matter how much effort they exert. A person with an expectancy rating of 1 is absolutely positive that if they give the task their best effort,they will definitely be able to perform the task.  Different expectancies are evident in our case studies.  For example, Jay wants to make good grades and as a result he expects to receive his degree..  Expectancy is a huge part of motivation because if the person rates their expectancy to do a task at a 0, and truly believes that no matter how hard they try they will fail, they are not going to exert that effort and will not have the motivation to perform that task. Therefore, the expectancy that each person feels will have a huge impact on the amount of motivation they feel to do that task.


“Something is said to be instrumental if it is conditional or believed to lead to something else” (PSU World Campus, L.4, 2012, p.6). 

Instrumentality is one condition of the expectancy theory that must be met in order for an individual to feel motivated, and it is the link between an individual’s performance and a desired outcome (P-O).  According to Victor Vroom of the Yale School of Management, his 1964 work on expectancy theory asked of instrumentality: “What’s the probability that, if I do a good job, that there will be some kind of outcome in it for me?”(HR Tutorial, 2012); in other words, it is the belief that the outcome of one’s actions directly relates to another outcome.  However, even though there may be a link between the performance and the outcome, it does not always directly lead to motivation. 

If an individual perceives that a high level of performance will be influential in the attainment of a specific outcome which may be rewarding, then the individual will place a high value on performing well.  As in our case study, if a student believes that their high level of studying will lead to good grades and a degree, or they believe their degree will lead to a better job or a raise, then the student will place that same high level on their studying.  However, if an individual knows that putting forth a high level of performance will not lead to a specific reward, but one that is attained by all performances, then their value on performing will be “low”.  The students in this case study share the desire of many common rewards as a result of their performance, which are to receive their undergraduate and graduate degrees, new and better jobs, an increase in salary as well as praise from their co-workers and loved ones, and finally a high level of satisfaction for their hard work.  As an example, from the expectancy theory survey conducted, 72% of those who participated believe that their high level of performance in their studies will lead to graduating with a degree from Penn State, and 68% also feel that their efforts will lead to higher salary positions in the work force, showing that these particular individuals place a high level of instrumentality on the relationship between their performance and the outcome .

To come to the conclusion of how one’s performance effect the outcome, Scholl (2002) believes there are certain factors that must be introduced into the process: Trust, Control, and Policies.  If an individual has trust in those who serve a part in their process, they are more likely to take their word as the truth.  Individuals also believe that if they have some kind of control over their outcome, then their level of performance often increases.  Lastly, policies have an impact on an individual’s level of performance as well.  If there are established policies that illustrate strict guidelines that tie certain performances to certain rewards, then the level of an individual’s instrumentality will be higher (Motivation).

Instrumentality is scored by using a range of probability starting at “1”, (which means that the desired outcome will be achieved, if the first outcome is attained), all the way through “0” (which means there is no possible connection between the first outcome and the desired outcome).


Valence is the value a person places on an outcome.  In other words, the attractiveness of a goal is its valence (Locke, 2000, p. 237).  These outcomes can be instrinsic (satisfaction) or extrinsic (money, leisure time, a promotion) (LACPA 2009).  The value of these outcomes varies from person to person, depending on a given person’s preferences.  Furthermore, the values that a person places on an outcome can be affected if the person perceives that other positive outcomes may be obtainable if the outcome is reached (Vroom 1964).  This would increase the effectiveness of the reward, and in turn, increase motivation.  Motivation and valence are positively correlated – as valence increases, motivation increases.  Similarly, if valence decreases, overall motivation will decrease.  Individuals in this study have varying valence and motivational levels.  As stated above its because there are different possible outcomes driving each individual.  For example, Samantha is motivated by the possible outcome of not having to work several jobs to make ends meet and James is motivated by the outcome of having a higher degree level.

For purposes of calculating a motivational force score, Valence differs from Expectancy and Instrumentality in that its range extends from -1 to +1 (PSU WC, L.4, p. 5). 

A score of -1 indicates that the person wishes to avoid the outcome.

A score of 0 indicates that the person is indifferent to the outcome.

A score of +1 indicates that the person desires the outcome.

The motivational force score is comprised of V*I*E, so a Valence score of -1 or 0 has serious effects to the final motivational force score.

The study subjects are each working towards a goal that is final for some and intermediate for others - they are each working towards a college degree.  Each places a high value on the degree, whether they plan to apply the degree immediately to improve their earnings potential at the workplace, or to obtain the degree in pursuit of further education.  This translates to a high value of valence for each of the case study participants.


In conclusion, Expectancy Theory is the root of all variances of motivation for employees in the workplace.  What an employee expects from his or her employer is a direct relation to the employee’s motivation for performance.  Valence, expectancy and instrumentality offer three different types of rewards for employees and depend on what type of reward is most important to the employee.  Employees base their level of work and performance on the anticipation of how their employer will react.  This is also true for students.  If a student believes that no matter how hard they study they will never receive an A, then the motivation to study is less important.  If a student knows the professor will recognize how hard they have worked, then the motivation to study harder is greatly increased.  Expectancy Theory applies to employees, students, parents, volunteers, etc.  Everyone needs to be motivated to perform better, whatever their current situation may be, and this is directly related to what they expect to receive in return for their efforts.


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Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2012). Work Attitudes and Motivation. PSYCH484: Lesson 4: Expectancy Theory: Is there a link between my effort and what I really want?. Retrieved January 31, 2012 from:

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