The Pygmalion Effect – How To Catch Him Out

The Pygmalion Effect - how to catch him out

The Pygmalion Effect – how to catch him out

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the Pygmalion Effect and a strategy to help you catch him/her out – not for cheating or lying – but rather for doing good things.

First a quick update:

“Celebrating your child’s existence without making her entitled or narcissistic”
Read the transcript of the interview with Dr. Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist and Founder and Director of the Better Parenting Institute. Dr. Vicki and I also explore parenting styles and Dr. Vicki answers the question “Can children be divine without being narcissistic?” by revealing 4 strategies to raising children with healthy self-esteem.

Now, let’s talk about the Pygmalion Effect and a strategy to help you catch him/her out – not for cheating or lying – but rather for doing good things.

Many years ago, when I was working in radio, the managing director of one network would employ a simple technique to clearly determine what was going on in the company and to uncover any bad behavior: he would randomly call an employee into his office and with a stern glare that also encompassed shock and disappointment he would say “Why did you do that?”

He would then pause and watch the employee’s face shift from fear to possible embarrassment and guilt as the employee would quickly confess to doing something wrong.

This managing director had no idea that the employee had actually done anything wrong but he knew that by simply implying that the employee had done something wrong, the result would be a confession and revelation.

This technique succeeded for various reasons:

  1. Most of us walk around feeling guilty for having done something wrong
  2. We expect people to catch us out for a wrongdoing
  3. We generally live up to people’s expectations of us

In 1964, Harvard psychologist, Professor Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment later to be known as the Pygmalion Effect: the effect of teachers’ expectations on students; it proved that teachers could raise the IQ of students when the teachers believed that those students were about to bloom in intelligence.

Rosenthal who was interested in self-fulfilling prophecies (along with a school principal Lenore Jacobson) wanted to determine what would happen if teachers were told that certain kids in their class were destined to succeed.

At an elementary school south of San Francisco, Rosenthal used a normal IQ test but renamed it as the “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.” He then convinced teachers that this test had the extraordinary ability to predict kids developing IQ – which kids were about to become very special and would experience a dramatic growth in their IQ.

Rosenthal secretly selected kids at random (20% of the school) and named them to the teachers. He told their teachers that these students known as “spurters” had scored so well on the test that the teachers could expect to see these students experience an intense intellectual spurt.

Rosenthal followed the children over the next two years and the Pygmalion Effect was realized – the teacher’s expectations influenced the students IQ:  “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ.”  All six grades in both experimental and control groups showed a mean gain in IQ from pretest to posttest.

The conclusion is that reality is, in fact, influenced by the expectations of others.

The teacher’s internal self-beliefs also changed and in turn, the behavior of the teacher also changed. “It’s not magic, it’s not mental telepathy” according to Rosenthal who discovered that the teachers were now responding differently to the ‘gifted’ children, giving them more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval via behaviors such as consistent touch, nod and smile.

Sports fans often speak of and appreciate the significance of a great coach and the effect that coach has on the team’s performance and wins. And yet most people fail to realize that in many ways we are also coaching people around us – affecting their beliefs and their behavior based on the positive results we expect from them.

What are your beliefs and expectations of your spouse, partner, child, employee, colleague or team member?

What do you tell them about what you believe they are capable of achieving?

Are you aware that you, too, just like the teachers in the study, will adjust your behavior towards the people around you according to what you believe about them?

If you believe that someone can succeed you will relay that message verbally and non-verbally; you will speak it but you will also reinforce it with the way you treat him/her. Perhaps you will treat him favorably or give him more attention, priority and significance than you would to others.

Conversely, if you expect someone to fail or behave poorly, you will verbalize that at some juncture and you will reinforce it via your behavior – maybe with a condescending or negative glare or glance; maybe you won’t even include or give him/her a chance. Again, the recipient will receive your message and will live up to your belief of him/her. Read my article “The dangers of our brain” to learn about the ways that we read and receive non-verbal messages from other people.

Here is a simple way that you can raise your expectations of others, change your beliefs about them as well as communicate to them your positive beliefs and expectations of them:

Catch them out for doing good things.

It sounds trite, kitsch and simplistic – but it is effective.

We spend most of our time looking, pointing out and condemning the people around us for the things they do wrong. We are quick to correct and criticize the behavior and mistakes of other people but, so slow, and often resistant, to point out, highlight and reward good behavior.

Change begins with awareness but it also requires action. To change results and impact the behavior and responses of others, one must change one’s behaviors as well as one’s thoughts and beliefs. In other words, you must become aware of how you respond and act around the people in your life.

People want to be found out; they want to get caught out – doing good things! People want to be noticed, to feel significant, appreciated, acknowledged, supported and praised. When you begin to catch out people in your life for doing good things, you also begin to change your beliefs about them, about their potential and their value in your life. Subsequently, they begin to live up to your beliefs and expectations of them. You have the power to transform people around you; you have the power to engage the Pygmalion Effect and improve your relationships!

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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5 replies
  1. Avatar
    sandro sirait says:

    wow, i was looking about this topic and i found it here.
    thanks for writing this article.

    it is really essential to realize how our brain works and gives (good or bad) impact to others.
    i cant no longer put low expectations about others if i wanted them to be better.


    “Catch them out for doing good things.” this one will be my new habits.

    with many thanks,


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