Expectancies and Beliefs: Insights from Cognitive Neuroscience

Citation: Atlas, L.Y. & Wager, T.D. (2013) Expectations and Beliefs: Insights from Cognitive Neuroscience In: Ochsner, K.N. & Kosslyn, S.M. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Neuroscience Volume 2: The Cutting Edges. Oxford University Press.

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Expectations influence clinical outcomes and ongoing experience across nearly all psychological domains. They color our perceptions, drive learning and memory, and shape the generation of emotional responses. Despite their profound influence, researchers have only recently begun to focus on the mechanisms by which expectancies actually modulate subjective experience. This chapter describes a cognitive neuroscience approach to the study of expectations, focusing on expectancy effects on affective experience. First a brief history is provided of the development of expectation as a construct with explanatory power in psychology, and several distinct types of expectancy are discussed. Next, the chapter describes the role of expectations in affective processes, both during anticipation and during the experience of hedonic outcomes. The chapter ends with a discussion on the brain mechanisms currently thought to underlie expectations and their effects, first focusing on expectancies across domains, and then specifically on pain, an area that has proved to be a particularly tractable and informative model system.