Dispositional and Situational Predictors of Coping with Expectation Violations: Experimental Studies on the ViolEx Model

Expectations are cognitions that are formed from past experiences, influence current behavior, and anticipate future events (Roese & Sherman, 2007). Thus, expectations should be accurate in order to effectively guide behavior (Panitz et al., 2021). However, some events cannot be predicted with c...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Henss, Larissa
Contributors: Pinquart, Martin (Prof. Dr.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Doctoral Thesis
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2023
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Summary:Expectations are cognitions that are formed from past experiences, influence current behavior, and anticipate future events (Roese & Sherman, 2007). Thus, expectations should be accurate in order to effectively guide behavior (Panitz et al., 2021). However, some events cannot be predicted with certainty and predictions are therefore sometimes inaccurate. In particular, educational expectations are often over-optimistic and thus prone to expectation violations (Carolan, 2017). According to the ViolEx model, situation-specific expectations arise from general assumptions, such as the academic self-concept. If the outcome of a situation violates expectations, individuals may cope differently. Coping can trigger anticipatory responses such as assimilation (behavior is directed toward confirming expectations in the future), or it can lead to immunization (denial, devaluation, or ignoring expectation violations) or accommodation (expectation change/destabilization; Gollwitzer et al., 2018; Panitz et al., 2021). Whether expectations are maintained or changed depends strongly on the costs and benefits of each coping strategy, especially when accurate expectations are opposed to a positive self-concept. Both individual differences in personality and situational characteristics of expectation violation may affect coping (Panitz et al., 2021). With regard to individual differences, there is presumably a cross-situational tendency to respond to expectation violations with a particular coping pattern. Furthermore, individuals with a higher need for cognitive closure (NCC) should prefer unambiguous responses (Kruglanski & Webster, 1996). This leads to a bias in favor of existing knowledge and expectations and thus presumably to stronger expectation persistence despite discrepant evidence (Dijksterhuis et al., 1996). However, individuals with higher NCC should be strongly interested in avoiding future expectation violations, so coping tendencies are probably strongly related to situational characteristics such as the valence of expectation violation. Positive and negative valence of expectation violation previously led to outcomes similar to overoptimistic expectations in educational contexts: positive valence led to more accommodation (emergence of overoptimistic expectations) and negative valence led to more immunization (protection of academic self-concept and persistence of overoptimistic expectations; e.g., Garrett & Sharot, 2017). This optimistic bias may also influence how (un)controllable expectation violations are coped with, whereby higher controllability should lead to stronger assimilation and lower controllability to stronger immunization (Bhanji et al., 2016). Moreover, according to learning theories on the degree of expectation violations, expectations should be changed especially when the deviation from the expectation is particularly significant, whereas stronger immunization should follow when discrepancies are small (Rescorla & Wagner, 1972). The purpose of this dissertation is to extend knowledge about predictors and their interaction in coping with expectation violations in order to theoretically evaluate the ViolEx model and practically identify risk factors for dysfunctional coping with educational expectations. To this end, the first study included several dispositional and situational predictors, and N = 439 participants received standardized expectation-violating feedback in a word riddle. Our results support the assumption that dispositional preferences predict situational coping, but in addition, we found results contrary to learning theories on the degree of expectation violation, an optimistic bias only for negative valence, and strongly context-dependent effects of NCC, which predicted both assimilation and accommodation. Therefore, in the second study, we examined valence and NCC in more detail, and the results from N = 268 participants replicated and extended our previous findings: higher NCC again led to stronger accommodation and assimilation, but only for negative valence of expectation violation. Because our studies found biased coping only for negative valence but not for positive valence, we aimed to better understand the optimistic bias in the third study with case vignettes in N = 249 students by including controllability and self-enhancement. Negative valence leads to stronger assimilation when the expectation violation was controllable, and positive valence leads to stronger accommodation when individuals selfenhance. Our studies confirm that coping with expectation violations strongly depends on dispositional and situational characteristics. Our results show that the protection of academic self-concept and educational expectations is preferred over the accuracy of expectations across different situational circumstances. Thus, there is strong persistence in educational expectations despite disconfirming evidence. This might be adaptive as long as it does not lead to frequent expectation violations in the future and especially as long as the situation is controllable. But results differ for individuals with higher NCC, as they show both stronger assimilation and accommodation. The connection between the two strategies, which is often considered contrary, might have a different meaning in the educational context, representing an adaptive compromise between accurate expectations and a positive self-concept.