Expectations Influencing Our Perception of Reality

I know that when you think about this the statement makes sense in general. Our expectations of what is going to happen often affects what we think about the reality of the situation. At the same time it often feels as though when people consume media they do not seem to take this into account when thinking about their reaction to what they saw or watched.

Where you see this most often is with movies. Certain movies due to the director or story being told tend to get more hype than others – either good or bad – and therefore tend to lead to certain reactions. Now this happening for an average movie goer is one thing, but I feel like sometimes it happens with critics, which seems to create an unfair balance in how movies are reviewed.

Setting Expectations

One of my favorite TV shows was The West Wing – it really had such a great and balanced look at politics. In the episode “The Red Mass” President Bartlett is having his first debate against his opponent in the reelection campaign. The team gets worried because Bartlett is known for his strength in a debate, but Ritchie is expected to fail. The thought is that because the expectation is that Ritchie will fail completely, the only thing he needs to do to succeed is not fall flat on his face. Then for President Bartlett the expectations are so high that if he only meets the expectations it won’t be news. The same thing happens when we watch a movie, or really consume any type of media.

Low Expectations

Whenever we go into a movie with low expectations – or even concerns of any kind – we can often come out of the movie saying that was not as bad as I expected. It is interesting because the low expectations can be built up at a variety of times. It can either be from the critics’ reactions, our friends, previews and trailers, even the general storyline can throw us off. Whatever the case may be if you have low expectations, but are still willing to go to a movie then usually there is something. Very rarely have I ended up going to a movie with low expectations and not ended up at least a little surprised. This of course can end up the opposite situation if the expectations are higher!

High Expectations

Having high expectations going into a movie can end up so much worse, because if it does not meet that expectation… In some ways the only thing you can hope for is that it is as good as expected. The problem can really happen when the hype machine gets going after a movie first comes out. Suddenly when everyone is coming out of a movie saying that it was the greatest and so much fun, then our hopes get up about the time we are going to have. If we don’t have as good of a time as others seemed to have then we can feel like we are missing some piece of information. Rather than missing information we have almost gained too much because seeing how other people reacted is influencing our own enjoyment of the movie.


Now where critics come into play in this is that sometimes I feel like they play heavily into this influence and at the same time can potentially be influenced by it themselves. Just like the average movie goer has expectations of a movie, it seems that so does any critic. Now as a critic you are supposed to try and be objective, but you cannot completely remove yourself from your own feelings. It can feel as though the critics let outside elements influence their critique, which then has a larger impact on the general expectations for the movie as a whole.

What are some movies where your expectations did not match reality?


One response to “Expectations Influencing Our Perception of Reality

  1. This was a fascinating piece and I spend a lot of time thinking about this myself. It DOES seem that, with certain films, all the critics will basically say the same thing once one or two of them get the ball rolling.

    I also think it’s unnerving how we see an angry and aggressive form of this expectations-creating-reality experience in upset fans who ACTIVELY TRY to make a movie fail by spending their finite existence scouring the internet to troll in any comment thread they can find. We saw it with Fox’s most recent ‘Fantastic Four’ and Paul Fieg’s new ‘Ghostbusters.’ There’s a bit of a ridiculous anger build-up starting with some fans over the casting of Mary Jane in the new ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming.’ While I personally think ‘Fantastic Four’ was pretty rough and the new ‘Ghostbusters’ was fantastic, I wanted to be positive about each until I’d seen it. And didn’t feel the need to try and internet-crucify something I might not have liked afterwards.

    It’s a weird and (if we’re being honest) unhealthy phenomenon. Here’s hoping we, as a culture, can heed your advice and manage our expectations (and animosity) a bit better. That lets us enjoy films all the more!!!


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