The Pygmalion Effect – Expectations Can Create Your Reality

Aug 22 • Management and Leadership, Trainer Articles, Trent Leyshan Articles • 6022 Views • No Comments on The Pygmalion Effect – Expectations Can Create Your Reality

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WHAT DO A DOCTOR, politician, priest and CEO all share in common? As individuals they are all defined by their title. What makes these titles and others like them so distinctive and influential is not necessarily the person behind the title, rather the perception and identity the title projects to others.

Every formal title brings with it a distinct meaning, yet all carry an expectation

The social expectations put on a doctor are vastly different to that of a CEO. Imagine if all CEOs were encouraged to adopt a medical approach to business, that is to say, caring for and saving people? The business world would be a noticeably different and healthier beast. Every formal title brings with it a distinct meaning, yet all carry an expectation that marks the recipient and determines their actions and behaviour. In psychology this is called the Pygmalion Effect.

 

Say what?!

The Pygmalion Effect is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform.

The power of the Pygmalion Effect was first described by psychologist Robert Rosenthal and colleague  Lenore Jacobson in their study of elementary school children and the effect of self fulfilling prophecies. The Rosenthal-Jacobson study, as it was known,  led teachers to believe that certain pupils in their classrooms had been identified as ‘intellectual bloomers’.  The reality was that this children were simply randomly chosen. However, at the end of the term, these students did indeed show higher academic achievement.

The reality was that this children were simply randomly chosen. However, at the end of the term, these students did indeed show higher academic achievement.

Why? Rosenthal and Jacobson believed that it was because the teachers believed in them. How? Later studies showed that teachers f these ‘intellectual bloomer’ labelled children unconsciously gave more positive attention, feedback, and learning opportunities, in comparison to the ‘ordinary’ students. In short, teachers  non-verbally communicated their positive expectations for academic success to these students.

The purpose of the study was to support the hypothesis that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others. This influence can be beneficial as well as detrimental depending on which label an individual is assigned. Rosenthal proposed that biased expectations can essentially affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies as a result.

 

Shifting Your Reality

Like the Pygmalion Effect, a job title can inspire expectations and greater responsibility. Does a title mean someone is worthy of it, or less valuable because the title is seen as inferior to another? Of course not, but the way a person demonstrates the responsibilities of their title can play a key role in what they achieve and how they are perceived by peers, manager or customers.

You may not be a doctor or politician, but you can still place a superior expectation on your own contributions

You may not be a doctor or politician, but you can still place a superior expectation on your own contributions. As an example, if you’re a sales representative why not consider yourself the sales manger? In doing this, ask for more responsibility. Or why not take it upon yourself to contribute more through your own initiative?  Promote yourself to a more valuable self-title.

How you think, that is to say your mindset, and how you act then enhances your current role and aligns to your higher goals and aspiration in a more purposeful way. Of course, simply willing a goal into your reality is folly; your clearly stated goals will only be brought to life through corresponding actions, followed by refinement and then more action!

To achieve more in business you don’t have to expect more from others, but you do need to expect more from yourself. Rosenthal postulates that when greater expectations are placed on a person they are more likely to live up to them. You don’t always need external encouragement to succeed, but your own expectations are critical to activating this principle.

 

When you raise the bar and strive harder for the right reasons, you transform from being a person defined by a title to a person who defines their title and is deserving of that next big promotion.

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