The Expectation Effect: How Mindset Can Transform Your Life

“Transforming your life” is quite a claim for a book to make. But having read The Expectation Effect by David Robinson, I can see how the book’s principles can indeed have a major effect on your life.

The overall premise of the book is that your beliefs, in themselves, shape your health and well-being: hence the concept of ‘the expectation effect’. Importantly, the book also suggests how you can change your mindset to live a better life.

In this post, I pick out some of my personal highlights from the book. The first couple of points are directly related to branding and marketing. The others are about life in general, so feel free to skip those if you don’t like the occasional ‘off-piste’ posts that goes beyond pure marketing!

A couple of branding-related findings

1. Brand equity shapes feelings

The first finding in The Expectation Effect relates to the power of brand equity to shape feelings. In one experiment, researchers asked people to wear sunglasses and read off 84 words under the glare of a bright light. Half the group were told they were wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, whilst the other half thought their shades came from a mid-market brand. But in fact, everyone has the same quality of sunglasses.

The people who believed they were wearing Ray-Bans made around half as many mistakes as the other group. And they completed the task in 60% of the time.

These results demonstrate the effectiveness of building distinctive memory structure for your brand and not only relying on short-term sales promotion, such as search engine marketing and banner advertising.

2. The power of brand properties

The The Expectation Effect recounts a fascinating story from drug company GSK showing just how powerful brand properties are. The company marketed a thyroid hormone replacement drug called Eltroxin in New Zealand. Over 30 years, only 14 complaints had been received about ‘adverse events’.

However, things changed dramatically when the tablet’s formulation was altered, following a change of factory. The active ingredient stayed the same. And extensive testing showed the drug worked in just the same way. But the appearance changed from yellow to white and the taste was also slightly different.

As the new version of the pill was rolled out, reports of new side effects started to flood in, including headaches, rashes and blurred vision. Within 18 months, the company had 1.400 new reports of side effects, a 2,000 fold increase on the previous rate of one report every couple of years.

This rather extreme example shows the importance of treasuring and measuring your brand properties (colour, taste, symbols, sounds etc.) and only changing them with care.

Bigger life-related findings

1. Your attitude can change your life (for better or worse!)

The book is packed with fascinating examples of how your mindset changes how you experience life. One example related to a study of mild traumatic brain injury. People’s initial beliefs about their recovery successfully predicted the risk of actually developing post-concussion syndrome in 80% of cases. “If you think your symptoms will last for a long time and are beyond your control, they are more likely to stay that way,” the author explains.

An even more impressive example relates to longevity. Researchers asked 1,100 participants to rate their agreement with statements related to ageing, such as “As you get older, you are less useful” and “Things keep getting worse as I get older”. The participants were divided into two groups based on having either a positive or negative perception of their ageing and then followed over the subsequent decades. The average person with a more positive attitude to ageing lived on for 7.5 years more than the average person with a negative perception!

2. Reduce your stress levels

Anxiety and stress impact the lives of many people today. Better understanding what is going on in your body when you experience stress can help reduce your chances of suffering from what is called the ‘stress cascade’. When your brain identifies a threat your adrenal glands produce a hormone called epinephrine. This makes your your heart beat faster, constricts blood vessels towards the head, feet and hands and causes your breathing to becomes quick and shallow. If you continue to feel danger, a second wave of reactions follows, inducing the release of cortisol.

In one study, researchers gave half a group of participants information explaining that signs of physiological arousal, such as a quickly beating heart or breathlessness, are not necessarily harmful. Rather, this is the body’s natural response to challenge and increased alertness can even improve performance. The control group were asked to ignore their feelings of anxiety and put them ‘out of their mind’ by focusing attention elsewhere.

All participants then were then put through a gruelling task called the Trier Social Stress Test. The control group showed all the negative signs of the stress cascade. In contrast, the people who had reframed their attitudes to anxiety showed a far healthier response. Their hearts were still racing, but blood vessels were more dilated. Other emerging evidence suggests that when people are taught that stress can contribute to personal growth they tend to show more muted fluctuations in cortisol.

3. Be ‘a radiator’ not ‘a drain’

The Expectation Effect confirms how your attitude and mindset can impact on other people, positively or negatively. Our brains reflect what they see other people experiencing and recreate similar feelings, a phenomenon called ‘mirroring’.

People who exude positive energy, ‘radiators’ as I call them, have a positive effect on people they interact with, as shown by a longtitudinal study called the Framingham Heart Study. Regularly interacting with these sorts of positive people makes you 15% more likely to score highly on measures related to life satisfaction. Being positive can also help leaders in the workplace be more effective. In a study of Israeli soldiers doing combat training, ‘priming’ leaders to have a positive expectation of a trainee’s potential improved that trainee’s mean score by three standard deviations.

On the other hand, having a negative attitude, being a ‘drain’, can harmfully affect the feelings of people you interact with. This negative impact is called a ‘nocebo’ effect. A study of 121 students taking a 3-hour journey up a mountain in cable cars illustrated this effect. One single student – a ‘trigger’ – was shown a flyer and video explaining the potentially negative effects of altitude including a headache. 86% of students who had heard about possible altitude sickness from the trigger experienced a headache, compared to 53% who had not heard about the risks. The intensity of headache was also much higher amongst those who had been primed by being in touch with the trigger.

4. Visualise success

I’ve often heard about the idea of using visualisation to help your succeed, when preparing for an important speech for example. The Expectation Effect contains examples that demonstrate how this can work for you. In one study, the forearm strength of the participants was measured. They were then asked to imagine they were lifting a heavy object for 15 minutes a day, five days a week. Six weeks later, the forearm strength was measured again and shown to have increased by +11%, compared to a slight decrease in the control group.

5. Avoid an obsession with happiness

This final point has important implications at a personal level but also for anyone raising kids. There is a lot of focus today on the importance of happiness, to the point where people strive to be happy all the time. “I just want my kids to be happy!” is a common refrain I hear from other parents. However, research by Iris Mauss from UC Berkeley shows how an obsession with happiness can backfire. In one study she asked participants rate statements related to happiness, such as “To have a meaningful life, I need to feel happy most of the time” and “If I don’t feel happy, maybe something is wrong with me”. The total result was a ‘Valuing Happiness’ score.

The people who valued happiness the most and strived hardest to achieve it were, you guessed it, unhappier on every measure she considered. “Striving to cultivate good feelings in every moment would be about the worst thing for your well-being”, David Robinson suggests. “A fixation on happiness can lead us to frame the small, inevitable upsets of life as something inherentlty undesirable and damaging.”

So, you might want to ditch any self-help books urging you to live a happier life! Instead, learn to re-frame negative emotions as being simply part of the rollercoaster of life. Disappointment, for example, feels unpleasant. But you can look at it as a necessary way of processing a failure and learning from your mistakes.

In conclusion, The Expectation Effect shows how changing your mindset can change how you experience life, whilst also confirming the important role played by brand equity and brand properties in building your business.

There is a link below in case you would like to get a copy of the book. If you are reading the email newsletter, this link may not show correctly. Click here to see the blogpost on the brandgym blog website including the link.