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Focusing on Future Forecasts: A Comprehensive Examination of Performance Expectations


Performance expectations presumably serve to guide sound decision making and behavior. However, expectations are complex phenomena that arise from more than just situational factors and objective probabilities. Although expectations have received extensive attention from researchers, relatively few studies have focused on expectation management over time in the context of prolonged uncertainty. Among studies that have examined expectations prior to a performance or in the face of important news, it is difficult to piece together a comprehensive understanding of expectations across varied outcomes, study contexts, and populations. The current study examined the antecedents, correlates, and consequences of performance expectations as undergraduates (N = 131) prepared their first academic paper for a difficult course and awaited their paper scores. Throughout the preparation period, participants completed daily and weekly surveys documenting outcome expectations, effort toward the paper, and indicators of well-being. With the exception of effort, participants reported the same experiences during the waiting period. Among individual differences, optimistic expectations were most robustly and reliably related to dispositional optimism and grit. Expectations related to indicators of hedonic well-being, such that optimistic expectations were associated with more positive emotion, less negative emotion, and less worry. However, expectations did not share fully reciprocal relationships with emotional experiences. Expectations also related to indicators of eudaimonic well-being such that students with more optimistic expectations about their paper assignment also reported more fundamental need fulfillment, a greater sense of meaning, and more frequent flow states than their pessimistic counterparts. Furthermore, bracing shared fully reciprocal relationships with relatedness and meaning in life, and more flow at one time point predicted less bracing at the next time point. More optimistic expectations were associated with better self-reported health and less sleep disturbance, but no reciprocal relationships were observed. Expectations and effort were not reliably related. Expectations tended to shift over time, such that score estimates decreased in a quadratic fashion and bracing increased in a linear fashion. Thus, expectations are dynamic phenomena that are reliably associated with indicators of hedonic, eudaimonic, and physical well-being. The present study provides some preliminary evidence for causal relationships with the potential to inform interventions.

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