1. The Expectation Effect – David Robson Retirement Wisdom 32:21

Your expectations and beliefs matter. Science journalist David Robson, author of The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Change Your World highlights research showing how negative views on aging impact how someone actually ages, and other ways expectations influence you.

We discuss:

  • How attitudes about aging influence the aging process
  • Ways in which expectations & beliefs affect our health, happiness and well-being
  • How expectations color what we see – literally and figuratively
  • The role that the expectations of other people plays in your life
  • How contagious toxic beliefs can be, but how the Framingham Heart Study shows the flip side
  • The research that surprised him the most
  • The benefits of multigenerational relationships versus age segregation
  • The pros and cons of approaching life with low expectations so you won’t be disappointed
  • Practical ways to harness the power of expectations – and avoid the downsides

David Robson joins us from London.



David Robson is an award-winning science writer specialising in the extremes of the human brain, body and behaviour.

After graduating with a degree in mathematics from Cambridge University, he worked as a features editor at New Scientist for five years, before Moving to BBC Future, where he was a senior journalist for five years. His writing has also appeared in the Guardian, the AtlanticAeonMen’s Health and many more outlets. In 2021, David received awards from the Association of British Science Writers and the UK Medical Journalists’ Association for his writing on misinformation and risk communication during the COVID pandemic.

David’s first book, The Intelligence Trap, was published in 2019, and received worldwide media attention. His second book The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life, will be published in the USA and Canada on 15 February 2022. It is “a journey through the cutting-edge science of how our mindset shapes every facet of our lives, revealing how your brain holds the keys to unlocking a better you”.


For More on David Robson


The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Change Your World

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Wise Quotes 

On the Impact of Negative Beliefs About Aging

“This research was so compelling to me – it’s actually the reason I wrote the book. I’ve been looking into the expectation effect for a while and then I came across these studies on on the implications for aging and it just felt like it was something that deserved a whole book rather than a magazine feature article. And just to give some background, the expectation effect concerns how our beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies through changes to our behavior and our physiology. And the research on aging really demonstrates this beautifully. So that’s shown that people who have a negative belief about aging – who associate aging with a kind of inevitable decline with disability and with a lack of independence – that they actually age much more quickly. Their actual biological aging is accelerated. And this can be seen right down to the cellular level. So the length of the protective caps at the ends of the chromosomes for example, these telomeres, they tend to be much shorter as people get older and they’re much much shorter amongst the people with the negative beliefs compared to those with the positive beliefs. And that then has a knock-on effect on their longevity. So people who hold the negative beliefs about aging live for seven and a half years less than people with the positive beliefs. So that instantly kind of got me interested in just how that could be and actually the research shows lots of potential mechanisms.”

On the Power of Expectations

“This is really important in education. It’s known as the Pygmalion Effect but it’s very much an expectation effect like anything else. A huge body of work now has shown that if a teacher has high or low expectations of a student that that will then kind of affect that student’s performance in exams, independently of the student’s actual cognitive ability. It’s been shown in numerous contexts and I think what’s really interesting here is that it’s not just a case of this teacher kind of being nasty to the student or kind of putting them down often. The expectations are just communicated non-verbally body language,  the tone of voice, and eye contact. How long they give the student to answer a question is easily picked up by by our brains and then that then changes our sense of self-efficacy –  how how capable we feel at doing the task at hand. If that’s low, then you’re less likely to persevere. You might feel more anxiety. All of these things can affect our cognitive performance.”

On The Expectations of Other People 

“I actually think it’s also really important when we consider the kind of age beliefs that we discussed earlier, because there’s emerging research showing that well-meaning friends or relatives or co-workers can help to subtly reinforce the negative beliefs about aging – often even when they’re trying to be caring to people. It could just be something like when one of my friends was quite annoyed with her sister because she noticed with her aging parents that her sister was always in a restaurant taking the menu to read it to her Mom and Dad. Actually Mom and Dad were like perfectly capable of reading the menu by themselves, but she was just reinforcing this idea that they were kind of on the decline, which is unhealthy in the long term for you to believe. So I think we should be really careful about how we communicate our expectations and whether our expectations are even fair when we’re dealing with all kinds of people. It’s not just in the school or workplace, it’s at home as well.”


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