While doing research for this article, I came across this clip. It’s hilarious and a perfect representation of how what we expect can completely overpower our better senses.

Now, this clip is about water, but the same can’t be said of people, can it? Believe it or not, but a study by psychologist Robert Rosenthal as far back as 1964 pointed out how a teacher’s expectations of their students influenced how they would perform in school.

When we expect a thing to be a certain way, we prime our mind to it and act accordingly. We expect fine bottled water to have a dignified taste, and when we expect to like or dislike someone based on some rumor or preconception, we act accordingly. This sort of self-fulfilling prophecy then only serves to reinforce our previous idea of the person, regardless of how it might’ve gone otherwise.

The Power of Expectation

From Rosenthal’s experiment with the children, to Dr. Mark Snyder’s experiment with young men speaking with women they thought were attractive, our expectations continue to shape the people around us.

This raises some interesting questions.

  • Why do we behave this way?
  • How often does it happen?
  • What sort of repercussions are there for us based on our expectations?

Types of conformity

The question of why and how often can be answered by looking at the two main reasons we conform to the expectations of others:

1. Normative

Normative conformity is when we’re introduced to a group of people and we wish to fit in. We derive what we think they expect of us based on their behavior, and then act accordingly. Thus, we conform to their expectations in order to be accepted.

2. Informational

Informational conformity is when we’ve been put into a completely unfamiliar situation. Not knowing how to act, what the proper protocol is, or what would get us the best results, we conform to what we perceive is the norm for that situation by mimicking the behavior of someone else.

Repercussions

So we have high expectations for those around us, and find ourselves constantly disappointed. That’s not a problem with us, though. Right? According to this discussion, people should rise up to meet our expectations of them.

That’s partially true.

Unrealistic expectations, however, can do far more harm than good. By building a world of disappointment around ourselves, we begin to expect that people will let us down. When they don’t, they are an exception to the rule. When they do, it only serves to reinforce what we already wanted to believe.

When dealing with people, especially our own children, we need to make sure we use our best judgement with what we expect from them. Simply expecting perfection without exception sets them up for failure and us for disappointment. Instead, we should see those around us for who they are, and expect them to be the best versions of themselves.

Together we can lift one another up, instead of letting false expectations disappoint us.

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