Expectations – An Experiment
In an expectations experiment in the USA, a teacher was given a group of under-performing students to teach for a year. Although the students were considered ‘slow’ the researchers told the teacher that the children were the crème de la crème; naturally gifted and expected to excel.
She accepted what she was told about the children and thus had high expectations for her class. The teacher’s expectations included top performances from every child. Her brain had effectively been ‘programmed’ by what she’d been told, and thus what she would experience.
A part of your brain determines what you experience.
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) at the back of the brain consists of a bundle of densely packed nerve cells located in the central core of your brain stem. Millions of bits of information bombard your five senses every second; smells, tastes, images, sensations and sounds. Obviously you can’t consciously pay attention to everything without going crazy!
The RAS filters the incoming information
The RAS determines the type of information that gets through to your conscious mind. The information that gets through is programmed and filtered according to your expectations, your interests and what’s of value to you.
Some examples perhaps?
Common examples that illustrate this point are; thinking about buying a specific car model and then suddenly noticing how many other drivers have the same model. Being at a noisy party yet still hearing someone say your name. Being able to screen out a huge amount of distraction when you’re engrossed in a good book or project.
Negative expectations focus your attention
Your expectations focus your attention. If you expect someone to be untrustworthy then you’ll be watching and noticing anything they do or say that might indicate untrustworthiness. Yet you won’t notice anything that might indicate the opposite to be true. Your expectations will affect the way you behave with that person. Your body language will change and you might be guarded in how you talk, or in what you tell him or her. The person may sense this guardedness and feel uneasy. And you interpret the uneasiness as distrustful behaviour!
Expectations can be positive or negative
If you begin to consciously expect good things, you set the filters of your RAS to focus and search for the good. Then you’ll start to notice more good things. By noticing more good things, you reinforce the expectation. So by expecting only the best from others you set the filters of your RAS to notice the best. And when the best is reinforced – you get more of it.
That’s what happened to the teacher
The teacher who taught the under-performing children for a year expected them to be brilliant. During that time she noticed every way in which the children were brilliant and reinforced it. At the end of the year the children were transformed from unintelligent under-performers to become the creme-de-la creme of the school. All thanks to the skills and the positive expectations of one teacher.