The Pygmalion effect

Chinwe Nlemoha Written by Chinwe Nlemoha · 2 min read >

Epic moments 

During the week, I followed a trend on Instagram. The trend described epic moments of our parents, what they did for us or to others that we can never forget. 

I followed most of the stories, there were some that got to me. They described how the expectations of some parents of their children made them make certain sacrifices to see their children stand out and become more successful than they ever were. 

These children in turn, did not end as vagabonds. They utilized every resource made available for them and made their parents proud. 

There was a particular case where the lady recounted how she was accused of stealing a phone in her secondary school.

Her father walked her to school the following day, called all the students out and announced that his daughter cannot steal anybody’s thing, because she has all she needs.

She explained that after that incident, nobody accused her again and it increased her reputation in the school that spurred to become one of the best graduating students.

When the culprit was found later, it strengthened their new belief about her and gave her an invisible edge over her classmates because, her dad stood up for her. 

Then, the light bulb came on! There is a relationship between our expectations from people and the result they produce. This is what the Pygmalion effect says. 

The Pygmalion effect 

The Pygmalion effect explains how higher expectations lead to higher performance.

It can be best understood as a cycle where our beliefs and expectations about a person affect our actions towards the person and this reflects in their beliefs about themselves and the way they present themselves to others. 

How it plays out

Let us imagine you are a class teacher of 25 students. One day, two new students walk into the classroom. We will call Student 1 Ali and call student 2 John. 

Ali is an active boy, and then you assume that because he looks active, he has potentials for being smart, therefore you have high expectations from him. However, John looks scrawny, and then you assume he is incompetent and you expect less from him. 

Whenever you have to teach them, your expectations from the 2 boys will make you respond to them differently.  You drive Ali to do more, to push and get better results; you do it courteously, motivating him to try harder.

When it gets to John, your expectations from him are low, so if you push and he does not bulge, you yell at him in front of others and explain why he looks so dumb.

Automatically, this will make them have different views of themselves. Ali seems himself as a smart person and as someone that can do all things; he becomes more interested in what you are teaching him and eventually turns out to be successful.

John on the other hand sees himself as incompetent, never amounting to anything. He becomes less interested in what you have to teach him. You become more offended that he is not paying attention during sessions and he is losing interest. Finally he quits and you say “yeah, you knew he was incompetent.”

This would mean that they also treat you differently. Ali sees you as a coach, John sees you as a commando- hard to please. 

What can we do about it?

Simply put, establish high expectations for everyone. When you give someone a difficult task, let know them they can do it. These little things we ignore are the things that add up to the plot of people’s lives. 

6 Replies to “The Pygmalion effect”

  1. Well said, Chinwe aka The Professor – now I’ve learnt a new word: The Pygmalion effect.
    Empowerment + Responsibility is a brilliant and motivating success tool. Thank you.

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