How The Pygmalion Effect Affects You

Winifred never felt like a student. She struggled to stay within the average range for most courses. Then it happened one day, their lecturer got transferred and another had to replace the position.

His name was professor Sam E. He had the friendliness that Winifred had never expected from any lecturer. Somehow he asked a simple question and had chosen her to answer the question. 

Winifred was not surprised that she knew the answer; it was a most basic question — she expected the smart guys to answer it even in their deep sleep. However, to the professor, she was a sound student.

Within the lecture period, he had asked about eleven questions in the class and Winifred was the highest shareholder.

Then the professor did something that would change Winifred’s life forever. He asked, “What’s your name, Miss brilliant?”

Winifred head spun. 

Faster than when her brother told her that she had a talent for pacifying a crying baby.

She had never been referred to as “brilliant”. 


Yet a professor was the first to tell her that.

Yeah, it’s just a regular word, I know, but for someone who had only been shot arrows of mockery describing how useless her brain was, it was a golden word.

Throughout the rest of the lecture, Winifred maintained a fairly laser focus. 

At the end of her classes, Winfred went home to begin a new habit. She would attempt to read up a couple of paragraphs in her textbook or watch some YouTube videos on the topic professor Sam would take in his next lecture. 

She began to gain confidence in her department and within just a year, Winifred had gained a lionshare of the top five students and she miraculously maintained that level of excellence till she graduated. 

The professor had high expectations of Winifred and she had unconsciously made the effort to live up to the expectation. 

That’s what psychologists call the Pygmalion effect.

In a research done by Robert Rosenthal in 1964 to determine if truly high expectations result in a positive difference in performance, he divided a group of lab scientists into two, giving them lab rats to train to get through a maze. In the first group, he told them that they had super smart rats and in the other group, he mentioned that their lab rats were dull and probably won’t perform well. 

At the end of the experiment, Rosenthal discovered that the first group who had been told that their rats were smart actually performed much better than the groups who had been convinced that their rats were brainless meatbags. 

Surprisingly, Rosenthal made it known that there was no special thing about any group of the rats. He said that they were regular lab rats randomly distributed to either group. Robert Rosenthal concluded that the rats in the first group had performed better at the maze experiment because their trainers had been prepped to think that they were actually smart and so, they did everything possible to ensure that the activities of the rat matched their expectations. On the other hand, the people who handled the “dull rats” group probably didn’t sweat it as much since they had assumed that those rats were already dull and so much couldn’t be done to change that.

Four years later, Robert Rosenthal partnered with Lonore Jacobson to conduct the study on children in the educational system. First, they made sure they all did an IQ test before the experiment. 

Next, they got a list of names of members of a class and marked out random names as intelligent bloomers. The list was then given to a teacher who taught them for a time. The teacher had high expectations of the intellectual bloomers and so along the line, they became as expected. 

At the end of this experiment, the children were given the same IQ test they had done earlier and those tagged as intelligent, on average, did way better than the others who were not tagged as intelligent. 

From the study, Robert Rosenthal and Lonore Jacobson came to a conclusion that regardless of the previous view the students had of themselves, their teacher’s view of them altered their effort to meet the expectation of their teacher.

In a different shade of thunder, there is in fact an opposite of the Pygmalion effect.

This is called the Golem effect. The Golem effect is described as when someone has low (or negative) expectations of an individual and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the individual and so never performs much or performs negatively.

For example, a person who has been told by a fellow athlete, for instance, that he can never run a 400 meter race would, in a short time, believe it and actually see his attaining it as impossible — especially when he finds himself panting heavily after jogging a few feets. He believes in the notion of the athlete and so doesn’t make the extra effort to try to attain that feat.

In a singing group for instance, a singer could be told that they are just not as talented as another person and so, slowly, those words sink and then they begin to percieve a “self-decided truth” in such statement and whenever they make a mistake they blame it on their lack of talent and may even get to the point when they lack enthusiasm and eventually give up saying, “Singing is not my thing.”

This psychological theory has been used in many fields of life and has either revamped or rubbished the expected actions of students, athletes, colleagues, employees, children and peers in what they do.

The striking Downside

  • Mostly targeted at only a few neglecting or indirectly downsizing the others in a particular organization, team or house.

The striking Upside

  • It can be used to boost the performance of people who hitherto haven’t expected much from themselves.

The Thunder Conclusion

  • The Pygmalion effect has been and can be used to enhance the performance of people. When we set high expectations for others, we tend to raise the bar and limits to what they can achieve. This allows them to make the extra effort to get to or even surpass such marks or limits in their head.
  • The Golem effect on the other hand, is derogatory to performance enhancement. What you say or do to others is more powerful than you think. 

To-dos for Thunders:

  1. Apply the Pygmalion effect in your life and the life of those you love.

Action plan

  1. Take about 10 minutes to reflect on the following:
  • How has the Pygmalion effect influenced your growing up? At home? In your school? Work places?
  • Do you think the expectations of someone you know has affected you in the past?
  • Is there any area in your life that you’ve been doubted and unconsciously shown low expectations in your field?
  1. Reflect on whether you have consciously or unconsciously been a support or a suppressant to the people around or under you.
  1. Have you placed anyone more special at the expense of others? Do you think it has been the reason they are in the vicious circle of your favouritism?
  1. Take out a pen and write down three derogatory words or statements that you have said to others, see how it can possibly ruin their lives and make an effort to stop it.

5. Share this post with your friends, family and maybe your boss so they can be aware of this fact.

Published by Sixtus E. Ezeadum

Check out: Medical student|| content Writer || Blogger || Emotional intelligence Enthusiast

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