Psychological phenomena explained: Pygmalion effect

What if I told you that your academic achievements did not depend solely on your education and intelligence? Imagine a world where the beliefs and expectations of others can influence the course of your success, where the power of perception has the ability to shape your abilities and shape the results you achieve. Well, that's the reality and known as the Pygmalion Effect.

What is the Pygmalion effect?

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon in which high expectations of someone or something can lead to better performance and results. The concept was first introduced in 1968 by psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who claimed that "people tend to rise (or fall) on the level of our expectations."

The effect is also known as the Rosenthal effect, self-fulfilling prophecy, or positive expectancy theory, and has been studied extensively in the educational context. It is based on the idea that a person's behavior can be shaped and reinforced by the expectations of others.

How does it work?

Essentially, it's about creating an environment where people are motivated to perform better by the increased responsibility or expectations of others. For example, if a teacher expects students to do well on an upcoming exam, they may be more motivated to study for it because they know the teacher has confidence in their abilities.

When a leader sets positive expectations for his or her employees, they are likely to work harder to meet those expectations and prove themselves capable of meeting them. This is known as goal-setting theory, which states that people are more likely to achieve their goals if they have clear objectives with challenging but achievable levels of difficulty.


One of the best-known examples of this phenomenon is an elementary school experiment by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson in 1965. They pretended to test all students for their cognitive abilities using a new test procedure, but in fact randomly selected 20 percent who were then considered "intellectually gifted. They shared this supposed result with the teachers. It turned out that these "intellectually gifted" children performed better in further tests than their classmates, although they originally had no advantage over them. This was due to the increased expectations of the teachers.

Another example is sports teams with low morale: if coaches expect players to perform poorly due to a lack of team spirit or commitment, this is likely to become a reality, as players are less inclined to give 100 percent under such circumstances.

Advantages and risks

This effect can be extremely beneficial when used correctly. It leads people to success or failure. It should be noted, however, that the effect has limits. Care should definitely be taken not to put too much pressure on people without giving enough time for sufficient training and not to expect too much from too quickly; otherwise, people could become overwhelmed instead of motivated to succeed.

Similarly, care should be taken not to make false statements about ability that could lead those involved to believe they cannot succeed just because someone else said so - instead, focus on providing support and guidance according to their individual needs while setting realistic goals within a reasonable timeframe.

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