The Pygmalion Effect - The Psychology of Having High Expectations

First named by the psychologist Robert Rosenthal; The Pygmalion Effect is where the someone who is in a position of leadership has expectations of someone to perform a task well and can encourage them to actually meet those high expectations and display higher levels of performance compared to if there wasn't any expectations at all. Conceptually it is similar to having Confirmation Bias where expected behaviors are shaped creating an expected outcome.

The study of human behaviorAn example of the The Pygmalion Effect is in an office setting where Supervisor A is considerably favorable to one of his office workers and has high expectations him to do well in any task that is given to him. This office worker in response thrives under his supervisors leadership and does his utmost to live up to his high expectations. It motivated him to work harder and to do his best. 

Then then another supervisor comes along, Supervisor B. Things changed when Supervisor B replaced Supervisor A. Supervisor B did not think so highly of this favorable office worker. In fact, it would be safe to say he didn't think very highly of him whatsoever. Eventually Supervisor B's low expectations became a reality. The office worker made mistakes and didn't seem to have the same pride in his work he did when Supervisor A was in charge, his mind went blank whenever he was asked questions, his confidence evaporated along with his motivation. His performance suffered in Supervisor B's presence.

What seemed to have happened was the office workers good performance was encouraged by Supervisor A's high expectations and because he worked well Supervisor A would praise him on his good work which would spur this office worker to keep perform well again. And this would cycle over again and again. The opposite would happen with Supervisor B would have little to no expectations of the office workers performance causing him to behave accordingly, having a similar cycle.




Psychologist Robert Rosenthal performed a study which proved that if teachers were led to expect a higher level of performance from students, then these students performance would improve accordingly.

 A selection of students in a California school in the 1960s were given a disguised IQ test. The teachers were told at the start of the study that some of their students could be expected to be "intellectual bloomers" that year, performing better than expected compared to the other classmates. The bloomers' names were revealed only to the teachers. At the end of the study, all students were again tested with the same IQ-test used at the start of the study. 

True enough the experimental group the "intellectual bloomers" performed higher than the other students keeping in mind that they were chosen at random. The conclusion of the study was that the teachers may have without realizing that they had given the supposed academic bloomers more personal interactions, more positive feedback, approval, and other positive gestures, such as nods and smiling as a result of having higher expectations. On the other hand, teachers would may have paid less attention to low-expectancy students, seat them farther away from teachers in the classroom, and offer less reading and learning contributing to a poorer learning experience. 

The power of the Pygmalion effect, can be used for better or for worse in the classroom, in the workplace, in the military, and elsewhere.




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