I’ve long been a fan of Dan Ariely. I hadn’t heard about this experiment from 10 years ago where users expectations were tested to see how they would influence and impact the results.
The other day, I ordered a new drink, a “London Fog tea latte,” at a local café. It arrived on the counter in a porcelain teacup with a saucer, and four lavender seeds were arranged in a fleur-de-lis at the center of the froth. The barista gave me a bestowing nod. It was the best tea latte I’d ever tasted; I found myself saying “Mmm” before the cup even reached my lips. Do our expectations actually affect how things taste to us?
For sure. In an experiment we conducted about ten years ago at MIT, we gave the students two small beer samples and asked them to pick the one they wanted a full glass of. One sample was just plain beer, but the other sample was a regular beer plus some balsamic vinegar. We didn’t tell some students about the special ingredient, and they liked the beer with the dark additive. But when we told our tasters about the vinegar, their expectations kicked in; they expected to hate it and sure enough, they did. Such results show that expectations do indeed change what we like. More important, they show us that expectations are a fascinating interplay between our brain and our mind. We are always trying to predict the future and prepare for it. As our body changes to accommodate to the anticipated experience, it also makes those anticipations more likely to materialize. This is why expectations can change our actual experience—and why we should embrace them as much as we can. (My next answer, by the way, is going to be particularly insightful. Wait 30 seconds, and read on.)
Online, when visitors land a website, most make a decision within 8 seconds on whether they’ll explore further or head back to the search engine to look elsewhere for their desired information. Setting the right expectations, through fast load times, clear value propositions, and intuitive navigation is as essential for online businesses and the importance of this has long been known.
Offline, it seems just as important. It reminds me of the old adage, “if you want to have a good time, you’ve got to take a good time.”
I’d love to read more about how expectations influence education. I think there could be some big gains to be made by Optimizing education through setting expectations at the beginning of a lesson and testing elements such as, what you will learn, how long you should expect to take on the lessons, etc.