What is the Pygmalion effect?
The Pygmalion effect refers to the more or less conscious interpretation and belief of how reality should be. We, therefore,adapt our behavior, thoughts and attitudes to meet expectations.
The Pygmalion effect can also be understood as aself-fulfilling prophecy, in which belief in something (whether that be positive or negative) that is going to happen in our lives, will happen since we unconsciously head towards that expectation, whether we like it or not.
Correspondingly, the expectations we have on others can also make that expectation a reality.
In effect,imagining an event will encourage it to happen (Álex Rovira)
How does the Pygmalion effect work?
These days, we can use the Pygmalion effect in a positive way (negatively too, beware!) in many areas. After all, the Pygmalion effect appliesto any setting where thoughts, beliefs and words are present: inthe workplace, the classroom, parental education, social relations and even with oneself by directly influencing self-esteem.
The Pygmalion effect was empirically tested by researchers Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1964. The Pygmalion in the classroomstudy was an experiment carried out in a school. Elementary school children, chosen at random, were given adisguised, nonexistenttest—the Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition—, which was supposed to measureacademic “blooming”or “spurting”,when in fact the test measured only some nonverbal skills.
Teachers were told that students scoring high on the test would bloom academically during the upcoming academic year.
After 8 months, indeed, those pupils labeled as “late bloomers”showed a significantly greater gain in performance over children in the control group.
Therefore, Rosenthal’s andJacobson’s results reinforced their hypothesis: by informing teachers aboutthe “bloomers”, they subconsciously facilitated these students’ success due to the expectations bestowed upon them.
According to Rosenthal, this is due to four key factors:
- Warmer socioemotional climate:teachers, unconsciously, convey this warmth through non-verbal cues such as a smile, a nod, voice tone, etc.
- More effort and demand: teachers will make a bigger effort to teach more materialtohigh-expectancy students and demand more results from them.
- More opportunities: teachers will give children who are expected to bloom academically additional time to respondto questions; these opportunities are given both verbally and nonverbally.
- More praise:if more is expected of a child, he/she gets praised more as well as more feedback.
The Pygmalion effect as double-edged sword: positive and negativeeffects
After learning about the power and importance of the Pygmalion effect, it is necessary to reflect upon the influence that it has on the lives of others and ourselves.
The Pygmalion effect works both ways: positively and negatively.
Our expectations about others influence our actions towards them.
In our daily lives, we behave in response to others’ expectations and beliefs: our partners, friends, bosses, parents, etc.
From a neurophysiological viewpoint, when someone trusts us and is our Pygmalion, the limbic system accelerates our speed of thought,thereby increasing our awareness and energy, and achieving greater effectiveness and efficiency.
Treat aman as he is, he will remain so. Treat a man the way he can be and ought to be, and he will become as he can and should be (Goethe)
The Pygmalion effect in education
People in charge of children or students should payextra attention to verbal and non-verbal language to avoid causing a negative Pygmalion effect.
During early childhood, children develop a sense of identity and self-concept, therefore any messages coming from authority figures(parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) are crucial to the development of low or high self-esteem andasense of personal effectiveness.
If a child is constantly hearing”Don’t do that, you’re going to fall”, the child may end up falling. If a child is told “This exam is going to be very difficult, so if you have not learned well what has been explained this month, you will not pass”. This kidmayfail the exam.
Labels also create a very negative effect on children’s self-concept. If a boyis labeled “the clumsy one”among his brothers, he will probably end up being clumsy.
In the same way, sending out positive messages of confidence in their abilitieswill give these children wings to soar.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right (Henry Ford)
Here is a nice short video that will help you better understand the Pygmalion effect: It is known as the Pygmalion effect and works at any point in our lifetimes.