In 1968, researchers Rosenthal and Jacobson did a interesting experiment.
It all began in a elementary school where they took IQ tests of the students.
They analysed the results and told the teachers names of some students who had “unusual potential for intellectual growth”. They predicted that these students would excel academically within a year.
After eight months they came back to the school and saw the academic performance of those selected students and took their IQ tests.
Everything is going smooth till now. But here’s the twist in story –
The students they selected weren’t those who had high IQ. The students were just randomly picked!
And surprisingly, the IQ scores of those selected few students did actually improve within one year!
They did excel academically.
Now how did this happen?
Because, their teachers expected them to excel.
Now you might say, teachers do expect everyone to do well, but they don’t do well.
But in this case the teachers held high expectations of these students and knowingly or unknowingly communicated that to those students.
Not by actually saying “you will improve your IQ in a year, you should be able to do this”
But even through actions, by trusting them, encouraging them.
From this Rosenthal and Jacobson concluded –
“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.”
– Rosenthal and Jacobson (1985)
And if we actually think about how teachers expect everyone to do well, we might realise they don’t really have high expectations from everyone.
They mostly expect everyone to be average and even if they do expect some people to outperform, these expectations should be held strongly and not given up even when they stumble.
Three things matter here –
1. You should actually, truly believe in someone’s potential to succeed and do well. If you don’t really believe and just pretend, it won’t work.
2. You need to communicate your high expectations verbally and nonverbally. By trusting them to do certain things, encouraging and motivating them even if they fail.
3. Also the expectations shouldn’t be extreme and totally unrealistic. That would be pressurising someone to forcefully meet unrealistic expectations.
This is called Pygmalion effect.
The story is based upon a Greek sculptor called Pygmalion. He carved a beautiful statue of a woman and eventually he fell in love with the statue. According to legend, with the help of Goddess Aphrodite he brought the statue to life and they lived happily ever after.
This Pygmalion Effect has been proved to be true in workplace as well.
Livingston did a study to see the Pygmalion effect in workplace and he concluded –
The superior manager’s record of success and confidence in their own ability give their high expectations credibility. As a consequence, their subordinates accept these expectations as realistic and try hard to achieve them.
– J. Sterling Livingston
Where else do you think you’ve seen Pygmalion effect? How can you apply this to yourself?