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Introduction to the Expectancy Theory



American Psychologist Edward Tolman made important discoveries that involved learning and motivation. The theory of learning is attributed to him. This involves the knowledge of one's self in regard to respective surroundings and how one might interact with them. Tolman garnered support for his theory using experiments that involved reinforcement with rats. He noticed that while working a maze, the rats would strive harder to complete the puzzle once they knew a reward was waiting at the end. This became known as Latent Learning and helped to develop Cognitive Theory.  Reward reinforcement served as motivation for the rats to continue behaving in a certain way until the maze was complete, thus reaching the reward for satisfaction. This set Tolman on the path to further researching theories on behavior and motivation (VanderZwaag, 1998).






Canadian native Victor Vroom is a Professor of the School of Management at Yale University. He studied behavior in organizations with emphasis on leadership and decision making. Based on his studies and information derived from Tolman's inquiries, he developed the Expectancy Theory. This was based on his study about the motivation behind decision-making (Vroom, 1964). He further explained his research in books that he published, "Work and Motivation" in 1964, "Motivation in Management" in 1965 and "Leadership and Decision-making" co-authored with P.W. Yetton in 1973 (Yale University, 2000). His work is widely known for breakthroughs in the study of organizational behavior, which he has further expanded upon in his studies of motivation that led to the explanation and results of the Expectancy Theory.





The Expectancy Theory of Motivation: A theory of why individuals choose one behavioral option over others; a model of behavioral choice. In doing so, it explains the behavioral direction process. Unlike other theories the Expectancy Theory does not ignore the cognitive approach (Redmond, 2016).  It does not attempt to explain what motivates individuals but rather how they make decisions to achieve the end they value. Vroom, V.H. 1964 Work and Motivation. New York: McGraw Hill. The Expectancy Theory suggests individuals expect their positive performances to be followed by success (Wigfield, 1994). 

The theory further explains the motivational force is expectancy times instrumentality times valance (Scholl, 2002). These three components need to be strong in order for the motivational force to be high. Expectancy, or how much effort is being attributed in obtaining the outcome (YourCoach, 2016), has many different factors that can affect it, such as ability, interest, and past experience (Redmond, 2016). Similar to self-confidence, expectancy has a lot to do with motivation derived from a person's belief they can accomplish what it is they are setting out to do. Instrumentality, or how well one performs a task, is linked with outcomes (YourCoach, 2016) usually inspired by the perceived end result or the possible reward (Redmond, 2016).  Valance, or the importance attributed to an outcome (YourCoach, 2016), relies heavily on a person's beliefs about the perceived satisfaction of said outcome (Redmond, 2016).








Case Study 

Susan (anonymous name) was part of a competitive workshop and looking to earn a promotion at a government agency. She had extrinsic values and goals of promotions within the agency.  After spending two years trying to outperform others in her class, a test was given to evaluate the individual qualifications of everyone within the class. Susan expected that if she worked hard, she would do well in the class, which worked out in her favor. Susan assumed that her great performance would inevitably lead to her receiving the promotion, so she did not put forth much effort on the evaluation test. Due to her expectation of success, overconfidence, and subsequent misguided behavior, she failed in her attempt to garner the promotion.

Susan believed and expected that based on her qualifications and capabilities she would be promoted. Ultimately her expectation was not met when her actual performance output did not match that of her competition. Susan behaved similarly as if the promotion were to be awarded based on previous seniority, assuming the link between obtaining what she wanted and the continued effort (on the test) she put forth was non-existent, her instrumentality is low. Even though expectancy and valance are high, because instrumentality is low - her motivational force is low.

Perception is a significant factor in influencing expectancy, more so than ability or interest, because it drives the belief of need for prospective effort, performance, and eventually outcome. Because of the multiplicative nature of the probability formula for motivation, if any of the components are low, motivation will be low. The higher the level of the components, the higher the motivation, but if any of the measures are zero then motivation will be zero. Because beliefs and perspectives can vary, both between subjects and within subjects, the probability formula is subjective (Redmond, 2016).






Because Susan misinterpreted the situation, she was unable to align values properly to secure her desired outcome.

Due to Susan's imbalance of expectancy, valance, and instrumentality she was unable to reach the promotion at that time. When her expectation ends up not being in line with reality, she will adjust the lacking multiple (instrumentality) in order to do better. As the promotion was consistently granted in accordance with test outcomes, her level of instrumentality, or her belief that there is a definite link between performance on the test and getting a promotion, will rise. If she maintains her belief that a promotion is her desired outcome, the level of satisfaction she expects (valance) will remain high. And, as she has previously demonstrated ability and interest, her expectancy, or self-confidence that with proper preparation she has the appropriate performance capabilities should also remain high. Later on, she took the time to reevaluate and perfect all levels of the Expectancy Theory. Eventually, she worked hard enough to finally reach the promotion she was after.



Expectancy Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved February 04, 2016, from
Expectancy Theory, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and Cataloguing Departments. (n.d.). Retrieved February 04, 2016, from
Schmidt, C. T., Jr. (2002). Motivation: Expectancy Theory. Retrieved February 04, 2016, from
VanderZwaag, L. (1998, December). Edward C. Tolman. Retrieved February 04, 2016, from
Victor H. Vroom. (2013). Retrieved February 04, 2016, from
Vroom expectancy motivation theory | Employee motivation theories | YourCoach Gent. (n.d.). Retrieved February 04, 2016, from





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