Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Anticipation

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What is it? Why do we have it? Can we manage it?

Overview[edit | edit source]

The question 'I have some good news and some bad news, which do you want to hear first' is a regularly used question when a person is faced with a difficult situation. When you hear this question, you use anticipation to decide what order you want your news based on your anticipated emotions (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Most people will respond by asking for the bad news first, so that the good news will let you end the situation on a happier note and somehow make the bad news seem not so bad (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). We anticipate that the bad news will make us feel upset or angry, and the good news will make us feel happy or relieved. Anticipation is used to predict the outcome of a situation or a goal that we are working toward. Trying to foretell the emotions or results of a situation before it occurs is called anticipating. Anticipation is defined by the Oxford dictionary (2013) to perceive a prediction of an outcome from a situation. The majority of this chapter will be focusing on anticipating the emotional outcome of situations.

What is anticipation?[edit | edit source]

Anticipation is the way we perceive how we will feel about a future event (Meller, Schwatz & Ritov, 1999). It comprises of many emotions, from excitement to anxiety (Meller, et al., 1999). Anticipation allows us to prepare for possible outcomes of situations, whether they be an outcome that you want or an outcome that you do not want (Gaylin, 1979). Anticipation is very important during times of danger or threatening situations, because like animals, humans use anticipation as part of the fight or flight mechanism (Gaylin, 1979). When faced with a threat you anticipate possible outcomes, and with that, you can decide whether to 'fight or flight' from the situation.

Anticipation is developed by previous experiences which are remembered and related to the current situation (Gaylin, 1979). However, sometimes the anticipation felt may become distorted (Gaylin, 1979). For example, if you were mistreated as a child by an older man, you may later find that you anticipate fear or anger towards any authority figure. Despite this, anticipation is a vital part of our being, as it helps us predict outcomes and how we will feel about them.

Why do we Anticipate?[edit | edit source]

Anticipating emotions is vital and is related to many functions of the human body (Erk, Abler & Walter, 2006). An important part of anticipating emotions is the circumstance of being in danger (Erk, et al., 2006). As mentioned above, animals and humans used anticipation as part of the fight or flight mechanism. Anticipation can trigger our regulatory processes that will prepare the individual to deal or escape from a possible threat (Erk, et al., 2006). Another area that intense anticipation is felt, but often not needed, is during ‘stage fright’ (Boven & Ashworth, 2007), which is a term which describes being afraid of public speaking. Many people suffer from stage fright and can experience high levels of emotional anticipation (Boven & Ashworth, 2007). Even though public speaking can be scary, it is not dangerous or threatening but people do experience the intense emotions that are seen in the fight or flight mechanism (Boven & Ashworth, 2007). This chapter will be exploring this area later.

Anticipation is also involved in everyday activities and decisions. You may anticipate guilt if you tell a lie (Meller, et al., 1999) or anticipate regret when you are faced with many choices (Zeelenberg, 1999). These anticipated emotions often make you rethink about your decision which should help you pick the right choice.

The emotions you can anticipate can also be of pleasure and happiness. A classic example of this is seen in addicted gamblers. For example, people who gamble will continue gambling because they anticipate the feelings and events that will follow after winning a huge amount of money (Mellers, et al., 1999). Even though this can become a problem, it is an example of how you can anticipate happy or positive emotions towards an event or decision.

Choice Selection and Anticipation[edit | edit source]

When we are faced with a choice we often use anticipation to foresee any possible outcomes and emotions that we may potentially feel, and decide on a desired outcome based on these feelings(Mellers, et al., 1999). Anticipated emotions play a major role when we are making a choice about a decision (Mellers, et al., 1999), the following will discuss two major areas of anticipated emotions when making a choice.

Anticipated Regret[edit | edit source]

Anticipated regret is when someone considers the possibility of regretting an outcome of a situation before the situation occurs (Zeelenberg, 1999). Anticipated regret allows you to feel regret of a decision without actually receiving an outcome, and therefore not experiencing an actual loss (Zeelenberg, 1999).

Feeling Regret
An example of anticipated regret

When shopping for an item and you find two very similar products, you think to yourself 'If I purchase this one, will I regret not buying the other?'. When doing this, you are anticipating the possible regret of purchasing the wrong item.

The Effects of Anticipated Regret[edit | edit source]

The role of anticipated regret allows people to make more rational decisions as it lets us decide if the possible result is what we want (Zeelenberg, 1999). Anticipating regret allows people to think ahead of time and experience possible regret if the decision made may be wrong (Zeelenberg, 1999). It also allows people to perceive the possible feelings of regret or remorse, due to the possible outcomes. Anticipatory regret is helpful as it influences our thoughts and lets us see the upsides and downsides of a decision, which allows us to determine what outcome is worth it (Zeelenberg, 1999).

Anticipated Reward[edit | edit source]

Anticipating reward is perceiving possible reward-based emotions that may come from an outcome (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). It gives us the opportunity to get excited about a situation before it occurs and lets us look forward to experience the outcome or situation (Kalat & Shiota, 2007).

Excited! (6928337046)
A classic example outlined by Kalat & Shiota (2007)

When purchasing a lottery ticket some people anticipate and visualise what they would do if they were to win and feel the reward-based emotions that correspond with it. The event hasn’t happened but you anticipate the feelings of reward.

Reward Circuit and the Behavioural Activation Pathway[edit | edit source]

The emotion from anticipating reward has been linked to the ‘reward circuit’ which is triggered by the feeling that something rewarding is coming (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). This stimulates the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that reacts to pleasant activities such as drugs, sex and food (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). However, this pathway cannot be confused with actually receiving the reward and experiencing reward-based emotions.

Studies have been conducted on mammals that have shown that the brain areas linked to the reward system quickly learn the relationship between events and rewards. This process is now known as the Behavioural Activation System (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). This system is seen in humans that are anticipating a reward from a known event or situation. Once the person experiences the reward, the system deactivates (Kalat & Shiota, 2007).

The Effects of Anticipated Reward[edit | edit source]

Much like anticipating regret, anticipating reward allows us to assess whether a decision or event will be rewarding or not (Ernst et al., 2004). It reveals that if the decision is worth the risk, you can question if the anticipated reward-based emotions triumphs any possible downfalls. Anticipating reward also gives you the emotion of excitement because you are expecting a reward. Some people say that this is sometimes better than the reward itself.

Pavlovian Psychopharmacology[edit | edit source]

Research has found that, similar to the Pavolv’s classic conditioning experiments, the body learns to anticipate the effects of drugs (Dinfelder, 2004). Dinfelder (2004) states the possibility of a drug addicts’ body anticipating physiological effects needed to make the addict want to take more drugs. This is just like Pavlov’s dog, where the dog hears the bell and anticipates food. However, in this case the drug addict’s body anticipates a mechanism that makes the drug addict take another dose. Siegel & Ramos (2002) state that anticipation of the drug may be more important than the drug itself and that if there was no anticipation of the drug it may reduce the cues to take the drug again.

Anticipation as a Coping Response[edit | edit source]

As mentioned before, anticipation occurs in all situations. However, when faced with a potential stressful situation you may use anticipatory coping (Gerrig, Zimbardo, Campbell, Cumming & Wilkes, 2009). Anticipatory coping is when you predict how to react to a potentially stressful event that you need to overcome (Gerrig et al., 2007). This type of coping is seen at times of stress for an upcoming exam, a fallout with a lover, etc (Gerrig et al., 2007). Even though anticipatory coping doesn't solve the stressor being experienced, it does let them foresee the possible outcomes of their solutions. Once you are able to find the best way to solve the problem by using anticipation as a coping response, you will be able to overcome the obstacle and allow yourself to relax from it.

Brain Areas Involved in Anticipation[edit | edit source]

The areas of the brain that are involved in anticipation are still being researched.

A recent study by Holtz, Pane-Farre, Wendt, Lotze & Hamm (2012) looked at people who were anticipating fear when faced with a threat. When those people were anticipating fear the anterior insula/orbitofrontal cortex and rostral parts dorsal anterior cingulate cortex/dorsomedial prefrontal cortex were activiated (Holz, et al., 2012). This was not seen in the groups who did not anticipate fear (Holz, et al., 2012).

A study on anticipating song lyrics by Leaver, Lare, Zielinksi, Hapern & Raischecker (2009) were able to capture the areas of the brain being activated while their participants were anticipating. A functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI) was used to see the areas in the brain that were activated when the participants were anticipating the upcoming words (Leaver, et al., 2009). There were excitatory signals between the prefrontal cortex to the premotor cortex (Leaver, et al., 2009). The prefrontal cortex is involved with planning and coordinating complex cognitive behaviours(Leaver, et al., 2009). The premotor cortex includes areas such as the basal ganglia and the cerebellum. These areas are involved in preparing the body to respond to stimuli (Leaver, et al., 2009).

Do we Develop Anticipation, or are we Born With it?[edit | edit source]

The different emotions we experience as part of anticipation are developed through past experiences (Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall & Zhang, n.d). If you were to do something that makes someone feel distressed, it may make you feel guilty. If you were to be faced with a similar situation in the future you may anticipate guilt before you make the other person feel distressed (Baumeister et al., n.d). Because of this anticipation of guilt, we may decide to carry out the situation differently, to avoid the other person feeling distressed (Baumeister et al., n.d). Baumeister et al., (n.d) describes this system as an instructive feedback system. First we act and then experience an emotion, then we have the memory of the event and the subsequent emotion felt (Baumeister et al., n.d). This emotion felt can now be used as emotional anticipation for similar upcoming situations or decisions (Baumeister et al., n.d).

Behaviour Influenced by Emotional Anticipation[edit | edit source]

Behaviour can be heavily influenced by our anticipated emotions (Baumeister et al., n.d). When people have learnt that a certain activity or situation may result in unwanted feelings, we anticipate those emotions for similar situations (Baumeister et al., n.d). Because of this, we are able to change our behaviour in order to avoid or change the situation and decrease the risk of experiencing unwanted feelings or outcomes (Baumeister et al., n.d). Sometimes, however, the emotions that we anticipate can be so intense and over-the-top that they can overshadow the reality of the situation and can sometimes influence our behaviours in a less favourable way (Baumeister et al., n.d).

Anticipation and Panic Disorder[edit | edit source]

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2012), panic disorders are constituted of panic attacks. Panic attacks are when the individual will experience intense fear or distress suddenly, usually when there is no immediate threat (APA, 2012). Panic disorders can sometimes develop further consequences called the “Triple A” threat (APA, 2012). This is where anticipation comes in.

Feeling Anxious

Anticipatory anxiety[edit | edit source]

Anticipatory anxiety is one of the three major parts of the ‘Triple A’ threat. This is triggered simply by the thought of possibly having a panic attack, even when there isn't anything threatening them (APA, 2012). People will anticipate the emotions of a panic attack and can consequently cause a panic attack (APA, 2012).

Freezing Response[edit | edit source]

People who suffer from anticipatory anxiety may physically freeze when they are extremely fearful. This is know as the freezing response (Alm, 2002). This has been noted as one of the body’s defence mechanisms (Alm, 2002). People experiencing a freezing response will not move until the danger has passed or until they have found the courage to come up with a solution, unlike the fight or flight response (Alm, 2002).

Anticipation and Public Speaking[edit | edit source]

Many people will anticipate anxiety-like emotions when they are about to do a speech in public. Studies have found that in many cases the anxiety is at the highest while anticipating rather than during or after the performance (McCullough, Russell, Behnke, Sawer & Witt, 2006). This is also labelled as anticipatory anxiety, because of the unneeded high level of anxiety anticipated (McCullough et al., 2006). In many cases, anxiety actually starts to decrease while the performance is occurring (McCullough et al., 2006).

McCullough et al., (2006) conducted a study on anticipation and public speaking; they found that those who anticipate anxiety-like symptoms towards public speaking had low self-regulation and heightened body sensations. McCullough et al., (2006) explains that this is why people find it hard to control their emotions and divert their attention away from the stimuli (public speaking).

State of Mind Model[edit | edit source]

The state of mind is the psychological state of one’s mind (McCullough et al., 2006). McCullough et al., (2006) discusses how this model can be applied to anticipating public speaking, as those who anticipate with anxiety-like emotions can have an ‘unusual’ state of mind. This model has been applied to many areas of life as well as anticipating job interviews and medical procedures (McCullough, et al., 2006).

Controlling Anticipation[edit | edit source]

Anticipating events or emotions are normal, it is a defence mechanism (Alm, 2002) and lets you predict probable outcomes. If you are experience anticipatory anxiety or find yourself over-anticipating emotionally; you may need to undergo treatment to keep it under control. Treatments used are those for panic disorders or anxiety (APA, 2012). These are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or medications such as anti-depressants (APA, 2012).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy[edit | edit source]

Cognitive behavioural therapy consists of five parts.


The clinician will explain the diagonisis, if you there is one. They will also help you identify the clients symptoms (APA, 2012).


The client keeps a diary to keep track of attacks or intense anticipatory anxiety (APA, 2012).


The client learns relaxing techniques that slow breathing and avoid attacks (APA, 2012).


The therapist teaches the client ways to alter their thoughts to reduce anticipatory anxiety. They get their client to think more realistically (APA, 2012).


The therapist slowly exposes situations that would normally cause an anticipatory anxiety (APA, 2012).

Techniques Used to Calm Anticipation[edit | edit source]

If anticipation experienced is severe and is experienced at certain times (for example just before public speaking or before a medical procedure) calming techniques can be done to try and reduce the intense emotions experienced with anticipation. Lundgren, Carlsson & Berggren (2006) studied ralaxtion and cognitive therapies for dental fear. It looked specifically into people who anticipated fear before their dental procedure. Both the treatments had improvements (Lundgren et al., 2006).

The relaxation therapy used by Lundgren et al. (2006) involved the elimination of stress by relaxing the participants by muscular relaxation techniques. Once the participant was relaxed they were shown a video showing a dental procedure (Lundgren et al., 2006). When the participant stayed relaxed for the entire video they were able to schedule their dental procedure (Lundgren et al., 2006). This therapy found that its participants had a dramatic reduction in anticipated fear towards the dental procedure (Lundgren et al., 2006).

The cognitive therapy in (Lundgren et al., 2006) study involved the assessment of the participants’ thoughts, belief, attitudes and opinions in regards to the dental situation. Like relaxation therapy, the participant watched a video showing dental procedures (Lundgren et al., 2006). The participant and researcher discussed the video and the participant’s thoughts on it (Lundgren et al., 2006). The researcher tried to change the thoughts about the dental procedure into more realistic ones (Lundgren et al., 2006). The participants were allows to schedule their dental procedure once they were able to stay relaxed for the session (Lundgren et al., 2006). This also had a reduction in anticipated fear towards the dental procedure (Lundgren et al., 2006).

Other Techniques[edit | edit source]

Techniques that focus on controlling anticipation, public speaking in particular, are listed on many websites. These may not work as they aren't directly studied on for anticipation alone. These techniques are (University of Pittsburgh, 2007):

  • Taking deep breaths to reduce heart rate
  • Think positively
  • Visualising peaceful scenes
  • Finding a friendly face and smile
  • Stay realistic so you don’t hype the presentation, to reduce anxiety

Even though these suggestions do not come from an academic places, they are easy to try and may work for you.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Anticipation is the way we perceive possible results and subsequent emotions to a situation (Meller, Schwatz & Ritov, 1999). It is developed by previous experiences and applied to current similar experiences (Gaylin, 1979). Anticipation is used by both animals and humans as a defence mechanism, known as the fight or flight response (Gaylin, 1979). As well as a defence mechanism, it is used in everyday situations.

A major area of study in anticipation is in choice selection. Anticipated regret is heavily studied and has been found to be useful in making decisions. Anticipating reward is another area that has been studied and is also useful in making rational decisions. Anticipating reward also gives you the excitement for looking forward to a rewarding experience coming soon (Kalat & Shiota, 2007).

Pavlov’s classic conditioning experiment is a famous example of anticipation. When the dog hears the bell it anticipates the food and starts to drool (Gerrig, et al., 2008). This phenomenon is starting to be studied in drug addicts.

Anticipation has been associated as part of panic disorder. It is part of the ‘triple A’ threat that cause an individual to anticipate an anxiety attack and eventually result in having one (APA, 2012). Another area that anticipation is seen is in public speaking, some people will anticipate the performance and increase their anxiety levels (McCullough, 2006).

There is not just one way to treat anticipation, it depends if you are suffering from anticipatory anxiety or if you get anxiety over a certain situation such as public speaking. Treatments range from cognitive behavioural therapy (APA, 2012) to simple everyday techniques such as breathing deeply.

Other related areas

Emotion and memory

References[edit | edit source]

Alm, P. (2002). Stuttering, Emotions, and Heart Rate During Anticipatory Anxiety. Journal of Fluency Disorders, (29)2, 123-133. doi:10.1016/j.jfludis.2004.02.001

American Psychiatric Association. (2012). Panic Disorder. Retrieved from Anticipation of Sound Sequence. Journal of Neuroscience, (29)8, 2477-2485. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4921-08.2009

Baumeister, R., Vohs, K., DeWall, N., & Zhang, L. (n.d). How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather than Direct Causation (In press, Personality and Social Psychology Review). Retrieved from Boven, L. V., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking Forward, Looking Back: Anticipation Is More Evocative Than Retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology, (136)2, 289-300. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.136.2.289

Dingfelder, S. (2004). Pavlovian Psychopharmacology. Monitor on Psychology, 35(3), 18. Retrieved from

Erk, S., Abler, B., & Walter, H. (2006). Cognitive modulation of emotion anticipation. European Journal of Neuroscience, (24), 1227-1236. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2006.04976.x

Ernst, M., Nelson, E., McClure, E., Monk, C., Munson, S., Eshel, N., Zarahn, E., Leibenluft, E., Zametkin, E., Towbin, K., Blair, J., Charney, D., & Pine, D. (2004). Choice selection and reward anticipation: an fMRI study. Neuropsychologia, (42)12, 1585–1597. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2004.02.011 Gaylin, W. (1979). Feelings: Our Vital Signs. New York, USA: Harper & Row Publishers.

Gerrig, R., Zimbardo, Campbell, Cumming & Wilkes. (2009). Psychology and Life. Frenchs Forest, Australia: Pearson.

Holtz, K., Pane-Farre, C., Wendt, J., Lotze, M., & Hamm, A. (2012). Brain Activation During Anticipation of Interoceptive Threat. NeuroImage, (61)4, 857-865. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.03.019

Kalat, J. W., & Shiota, M. (2007). Emotions. Belmont, USA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Leaver, A., Van lare, J., Zielinski, B., Halpern, A., & Rauschecker, J. (2009). Brain Activation During Sound Sequences. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(8), 2477-2485. Retrieved from

Lundgren, J., Carlsson, S. G., & Berggren, U. (2006). Relaxation versus cognitive therapies for dental fear--A psychophysiological approach. Health Psychology, 25(3), 267-273. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.25.3.267 McCullough, S. C., Russell, S. G., Behnke, R. R., Sawyer, C. R., & Witt, P. L. (2006). Anticipatory Public Speaking State Anxiety as a Function of Body Sensations and State of Mind. Communication Quarterly, 54(1), 101-109. doi:10.1080/01463370500270520

Mellers, B., Schwartz, A., & Ritov, I. (1999). Emotion-based choice. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 128(3), 332-345. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.128.3.332

Oxford Dictionaries online. (2013). Retrieved from

Siegel, S., & Ramos, B. C. (2002). Applying laboratory research: Drug anticipation and the treatment of drug addiction. Experimental And Clinical Psychopharmacology, 10(3), 162-183. doi:10.1037/1064-1297.10.3.162 University of Pittsburgh. (2008). Speech Anxiety. Retrieved from

Zeelenberg, M. (1999). Anticipated Regret, Expected Feedback and Behavioral Decision Making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, (12), 93-106. Doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-0771(199906)12:2<93::AID-BDM311>3.0.CO;2-S