The Pygmalion Effect may sound awkward and difficult to pronounce, but believe me, it’s a really wonderful thing. A simple psychological trick that costs absolutely nothing: neither money nor a lot of brainpower – and that gets the most out of the people around you.
Applicable anytime and anywhere, it is suitable for bosses who want to motivate their employees to perform at their best, as well as for parents who want better grades or a more confident demeanor for their children. Doctors can use the Pygmalion Effect to encourage their patients to finally eat healthier food, and tenants or homeowners can encourage their neighbors not to complain about every little thing.
The US psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson discovered it. In 1968, they took an IQ test to all students in a California elementary school. After the evaluation, they then conveyed the message to the teachers – and only them – which students in each class level were above average according to the test. They said they could be expected to do significantly better than the other students in the class at the end of the school year.
And so it was when the researchers returned at the end of the school year. Especially with the youngest, in the first and second grades, those who were predicted to do so had become the high-flyers of the class. So far, so unspectacular? The joke about the study was: The researchers had chosen the alleged intelligence beasts not according to their actual IQ values - but at random.
A person behaves as we expect him to
Since the students themselves did not know whether they had been “chosen” or not, it must have been the expectation of the teachers alone that had produced this amazing boost in performance. So Rosenthal and Jacobson showed impressively: A person behaves as we expect him to. Those who expect good things, consciously and unconsciously, promote and encourage a lot, but also forgive a lot. He focuses on positive development, helps with setbacks and problems and trusts that the other will find their way.
The expectations change how we deal with this person. And this in turn changes his own behavior in the long term. This has been shown by many more studies after the first studies by US psychologists. To come back to our examples above, a boss who firmly believes that his team will find the best solution to a problem is very likely to get such a team. Parents who believe that their child has the strength and wisdom to find their way in school and in life will likely raise someone who can develop a keen sense of themselves and get the best out of themselves.
And doctors who grapple with unwavering patients or those who can no longer bear their complaining neighbors should use the Pygmalion effect. For those who don’t know the film: “The Little Lord” shows very clearly how it works. There an eight-year-old boy moves in with his unknown grandfather, and turns the narrow-minded, sullen and bad-tempered old man into a loving and generous grandpa – solely out of his childish, dreamy expectation that a grandfather can only be like that.
And why did this psychological phenomenon get the name “Pygmalion Effect”? Pygmalion was a poor sculptor in ancient Greek mythology who carved his dream woman out of ivory. And when he looked at this perfect being so completely in love, it came to life.