When Exactly Does “Expectation Bias” Mean Anything?


Genuinely interested in a debate on this topic. There are many mentions of the so called "expectation bias" effect on the forum, usually linked to those in the subjectivist camp, by those in the objectivist camp. These often seem to be loosely coupled with claims that people who buy expensive equipment like to be able to justify their purchases by explaining their subjective opinions of why it is better. So here are some questions to kick off the debate:

1. Most "expectation bias" claims / observations seem to be levied at those who are expected to hear "something better" because the "something better" is more expensive. If the "expectation bias" is actually based on the technical design of 2 products, or a read of a set of specifications, and nothing to do with price, but a difference is heard which is in line with expectations, is this a valid result or not?

2. As above, but there is no difference heard. Valid or not?

3. If the listener has an "expectation bias" that is "I expect to hear no difference" (e.g. when listening to, for example, cables or amplifiers that all meet some kind of nominal set of specifications) but they hear a difference, why is this form of "expectation bias" not having an effect on their listening? Surely if there is a bias it applies to the "hear no difference approach" as much as the "expect to hear a difference" approach?

4. Why is it that people are accused of "expectation bias" AFTER they have purchased an expensive product? What would the point of this be? Why are people who buy expensive products accused of buying it because its more expensive, or meets their so called "expectation bias"? Why would they do that before parting with their cash? Why would they not just buy the product they like the sound of the best (assuming sound is their primary selection criteria)?

5. When someone does buy a lower cost product over a higher cost product, why do they not get accused of "expectation bias" related to being a cheapskate who just wants to spend as little as possible and claim that everything sounds great regardless?

Is there any sensible research on this, because it seems to me that "expectation bias" is applied selectively. At least it seems that way on this forum, much of the time.


Neil McCauley / editor in chief

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