Takeaways from the Pygmalion Effect

Over fifty years ago, researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson performed an experiment where teachers were told which students in their class had higher potential based on the student’s performance on an IQ test. The students were tested again at the end of the year. The students the teachers were told had higher potential improved their scores more than the others. The catch? The students labeled as higher potential were not based on the test results. The researchers chose them randomly.

“Higher expectations lead to higher results” was the primary finding of the study. It’s become known as the Pygmalion Effect, or Rosenthal Effect. It’s a powerful finding that can be applied across many facets of our life.

You Get What You Look For

“You get what you look for” is a corollary to higher expectations lead to higher results. If one believes their boss at work is out to get them, then the boss always is, not matter what they do. If we believe our children are good, we expect and see that behavior. The opposite is also true. If we think our spouse or significant other is unhappy or mad at us, we invite and encourage that behavior.

Basically, if we want to change the way others behave around us, we need to change our perceptions and expectations of others behavior. Sure, some people will disappoint. But the majority of people will surprise us. The end result is that one will be more optimistic, cheerful, and generally more fun to be around leading to richer and deeper relationships.

When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.

Leaders Get the Performance They Expect

If you are involved in any type of leadership position, and most of us are in one way or another, you will get the performance you expect. If you see someone as a problem, then you will subconsciously look for the things that confirm their behavior. Again, the opposite is also true. If you see the potential in people, you will be inclined to help people reach it.

It means we need to approach those around us, especially those who look up to us, with an open mind. We need to make the effort to identify the potential in people, and then make it our responsibility to help people achieve it.

First Look Inward, then Look Outward

If we’re going to help others, we need to start by first helping ourselves. We need to manage that big voice inside our head that is always talking to us. We need to make sure that the voice is encouraging us and helping us achieve our potential.

When we our kind to ourselves, when we encourage ourselves, when we help ourselves reach our potential, then we can help others. To use the Pygmalion Effect to help others, we need to start by using it with ourselves.

At the end of the day, if we have high expectations for ourselves, if we have high expectations for those around us, then we end up getting higher performance. And we help those around us, who in turn help those around them, we make the world a better place for all.

h/t to Rohan’s A Learning a Day blog. I was inspired by this article he wrote recently. If you’re not already reading his blog regularly, you should. It’s good stuff.

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