Deutsch: Zielbasierte Erwartung / Español: Expectativa basada en objetivos / Português: Expectativa baseada em metas / Français: Attente basée sur des objectifs / Italiano: Aspettativa basata sull'obiettivo /

A Target-based expectancy refers to expectation about a person based on his or her past actions, such as expecting someone to go to the beach on vacation because he or she has always gone to the beach in the past.

In psychology, "target-based expectancies" refer to beliefs or predictions that an individual has about specific events, objects, or people based on their past experiences with similar targets. These expectancies can influence how people perceive, interpret, and respond to new information about the target.

Target-Based Expectancy refers to the psychological phenomenon where an individual's expectations and behaviours are influenced by specific goals or targets they aim to achieve. This concept is crucial in understanding motivation and goal-setting processes within the context of psychology.


Target-Based Expectancy involves the cognitive processes by which individuals set, pursue, and evaluate goals. It is grounded in the broader field of expectancy theory, which posits that people are motivated to act in certain ways based on the expected outcomes of their actions. When targets or goals are set, they shape an individual's expectations about their abilities and the likelihood of achieving those goals, thus influencing their motivation and behaviour.

In psychological research, this concept is often explored in relation to motivation theories, such as Victor Vroom's Expectancy Theory, which asserts that motivation is determined by three factors: expectancy (belief that effort will lead to performance), instrumentality (belief that performance will lead to outcomes), and valence (value placed on the outcomes). Target-based expectancy specifically focuses on how clearly defined goals can enhance these factors.

For example, in an educational setting, a student with a clear target of achieving a high grade in a course is likely to have higher expectancy that their efforts (studying and attending classes) will lead to high performance (good grades). This target acts as a motivating force, guiding their actions and increasing their commitment to the goal.

Historically, the development of target-based expectancy concepts can be traced back to early 20th-century motivational theories, including Edwin Locke's Goal-Setting Theory. Locke and his colleagues demonstrated that specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance compared to vague or easy goals.

Special Considerations

Target-based expectancy can vary greatly among individuals, influenced by personal factors such as self-efficacy, past experiences, and the perceived difficulty of the target. Additionally, external factors like social support, available resources, and feedback also play significant roles in shaping these expectancies.

Application Areas

Target-Based Expectancy is applied in various fields within psychology:

  1. Educational Psychology: Enhancing student motivation and achievement through goal-setting strategies.
  2. Organizational Psychology: Improving employee performance and job satisfaction by setting clear and attainable goals.
  3. Clinical Psychology: Using goal-setting in therapeutic settings to help clients achieve personal milestones and improve mental health.
  4. Sports Psychology: Motivating athletes to achieve peak performance through structured goal-setting.
  5. Personal Development: Guiding individuals in setting and achieving personal life goals.

Well-Known Examples

  1. SMART Goals in Education: Implementing Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals to improve student outcomes.
  2. Performance Appraisals in Organizations: Setting clear performance targets to enhance employee productivity and job satisfaction.
  3. Therapeutic Goals in Clinical Settings: Using target-based strategies to help clients achieve specific therapeutic outcomes, such as reducing anxiety or improving social skills.
  4. Athletic Training Programs: Designing training regimes with specific performance targets to boost athletic achievements.

Here are some examples of target-based expectancies in psychology:

  1. Example 1: A student who has consistently received high grades in math class may have a target-based expectancy that they will perform well on future math tests. As a result, they may approach studying and test-taking with confidence and optimism.

  2. Example 2: A person who has had negative experiences with dogs in the past may have a target-based expectancy that all dogs are aggressive and unpredictable. As a result, they may feel anxious and avoidant around dogs, even if the specific dog they encounter is friendly and well-behaved.

  3. Example 3: An employee who has received positive feedback from their boss for their work may have a target-based expectancy that their boss values and appreciates their contributions. As a result, they may feel motivated and engaged in their work.

  4. Example 4: A child who has been rewarded for sharing toys with others may have a target-based expectancy that sharing is a positive behavior that leads to rewards. As a result, they may be more likely to share in the future, even in situations where there is no explicit reward offered.

  5. Example 5: A person who has had successful romantic relationships in the past may have a target-based expectancy that they are capable of forming meaningful and fulfilling relationships. As a result, they may approach new romantic prospects with confidence.

Treatment and Risks

While target-based expectancy can significantly enhance motivation and performance, it also carries potential risks. Unrealistic or overly challenging targets can lead to stress, burnout, and decreased motivation. It is crucial to balance ambition with attainability and provide adequate support to individuals pursuing their goals. Additionally, an overemphasis on target achievement can sometimes overshadow the importance of the learning process and intrinsic motivation.

Similar Terms

  • Expectancy Theory: A broader theory explaining how expectations about the future influence motivation.
  • Goal-Setting Theory: A theory that focuses on the relationship between goal specificity, difficulty, and performance.
  • Self-Efficacy: The belief in one's capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome.
  • Instrumentality: The belief that performance will lead to specific outcomes or rewards.


Target-Based Expectancy is a critical concept in psychology that explains how goal setting influences motivation and behaviour. By setting clear and achievable targets, individuals can enhance their motivation, focus, and performance across various domains such as education, work, therapy, and sports. Understanding this concept helps in designing effective strategies to foster goal-directed behaviour and improve overall outcomes.


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