The Golem effect is an abstract phenomenon where low expectation placed on people causes a poor result or performance. Let us take an in-depth look at the Golem effect.

What is the Golem Effect?

The Golem effect is a mind-based belief that when poor performance is expected from an individual either by superiors or the person themselves, it can result in a negative performance. It is prevalent in a work or school environment.

The Golem effect is described as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you believe the worst of yourself or anyone subject to you, the result is always negative.

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It is also when teachers and line managers expect or anticipate a poor performance from a subordinate, which usually leads directly to negative behaviour, the same way it was preconceived by the superior.

Superiors who activate the Golem effect believe that some employees do not have the required skill set, innate ability, or drive to succeed.

The result is a switch in leadership style, where superiors set clear cut targets and deadlines for completion, assign more regular tasks, micromanage employees, and amplify operational concerns that have no strategic impact on results.

This has a domino effect on the employee or students who sense that trust in them is limited. In the face of this reality, employees become demotivated and believe the worst of themselves, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy effect, described as the Golem effect.

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The effect of the negative results of the Golem effect include

  • Loss of self-confidence on the employee’s part
  • Poor Productivity
  • Poor perception of peers and  superiors
  • Zero Innovation and creative problem solving
  • Employees are playing to the gallery.

More often than not, employees who are recipients of the Golem effect treatment leave their organisation to have some sort of mental sanity or freedom from the system’s constant, unspoken cognitive battery.

For Teachers: Importance and Implications of the Golem Effect

Teachers need to be aware of how negative expectations placed on learners can impact learning adversely. This awareness would make them more intentional in not harbouring or expressing negative expectations or thoughts over students who might seem like slow learners.

Educational facilities also have a role to play in preventing the Golem effect from taking root in their environment, because of the following  implications ;

  •  A teacher has poor student expectations, expressed by the teacher’s behaviour.
  • The students’ performance begins to respond to the teacher’s poor expectations.
  • The teacher notices this low performance and other problematic traits in the student and believes that their expectations were right after all.

Read Types of Student Intelligence Every Teacher Should Know

The lesson here is that for students of diverse abilities to thrive within a learning facility, all students need to be made to feel that they belong and are accepted in school. They also need to believe that there are capable learners and can achieve success just like their peers.

More importantly, the teachers and school administrators also need to believe this. Positive affirmation is vital for learning to take place.

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A teacher has no business in instilling learning if they do not believe in their student abilities. 

To combat the Golem effect, research has provided a 4 step process of how teachers can effectively manage their expectations positively, which are:

  •  Foster a friendly environment and be kind to students; they expect more.
  •  Seek opportunities to reinforce learning in such students
  • Present more opportunities to interact with your students and proffer help in areas of difficulty.
  • Use positive words of affirmation and use more detailed constructive feedback.

Read: Achievement Testing in Education: Meaning & Examples

Examples of the Golem Effect

Like this famous saying by Napoleon Hill, “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” 

Words spoken or conceived in your thoughts have a way of expressing your genuine emotions, either as verbal or nonverbal communication. In the same vein, words like “you are never going to make it” or you are suitable for nothing repeatedly said over time usually result in the recipient believing it subconsciously until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let’s review some examples of the Golem Effect in the workplace, schools, and business.

1. WorkPlace

At work, if a manager keeps reiterating that a team member is not good enough, either due to poor performance or wrong perception. The employee becomes depressed and loses confidence in their ability. 

The employee becomes timid and refuses to contribute during brainstorming sessions for fear of being talked down and eventually stops making any effort to be outstanding. During appraisals, the employee performs poorly, and the manager believes this result has now validated his expectations.

However, in retrospect, the actions and expectations of the manager are responsible for the poor performance.

Read: Cobra Effect & Perverse Survey Incentives: Definition, Implications & Examples

When this employee is transferred to another manager who believes in the best of everyone, this same employee strives for mastery. 

The manager sees the effort, recommends learning opportunities to help out, and the result is the employee of the year award.

The former boss wonders, what changed? Well, the expectation of the superior restored faith and built self-confidence and evoked the need to be better, even if it was just in a bid not to let the boss down.

2. Schools

When teachers and educators believe that some students are poor performers, it shows in their interactions with the learners. Over time these learners begin to think the narrative from their teachers that they are no good and make no effort to try due to this limiting belief.

On the other hand, the teachers make little or no effort to help these students overcome this difficulty. At the end of the school year, the learners perform poorly socially and academically. 

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This is what is then ascribed to as the Golem effect.

3. Business

Business investors, who get information that an economic meltdown is looming in the crypto sector, may panic and begin to withdraw their investments from a particular coin they had invested in, and others follow suit. This leads to a drop in price and eventually a crash.

This will later have a ripple effect on other non-fungible tokens and is now known as the Golem effect. This is so because the actions of the business investors were triggered by the belief that things were going to worsen in the crypto sector.

Read: 7 Steps to Building a Productive Learning Environment

History of the Golem Effect

The Golem effect has its history in the Jewish mythology of a creature built from clay and mud, created to serve its master. This creature was given life by Rabbi Loew of Prague in Jewish mythology.

The myth has it that the creature was made to save the Jews from the horrors of the  Blood Libel.

The Blood Libel was a period of antisemitic attack against the Jews, based on the false accusation by Nazis that Jews killed Christian boys for blood during the Passover.

However, the creature evolved and began to act violently and had to be destroyed. The effect was then named the Golem effect in 1982 by Babad, Inbar, and Rosenthal.

Read: Barnum Effect in Research: Meaning & Implications

As  It represented the concerns of social scientists and educators, who focus on the harmful impacts of self-fulfilling prophecies. It is believed that the creator of the Golem had reservations about the creature. He thought that it would bring about crisis and destruction, and it eventually came to pass just like he predicted. This effect adopts this name because it depicts how having low expectations can result in poor performance.

Practical Tips for Teachers to Leverage the Golem Effect 

Teachers should be aware of how their perceptions and expectations of students can influence their students’ performance. For teachers to leverage the Golem effect, they have to develop metacognitive strategies to help them understand and combat the way they conceive ideas to avoid falling into the trap of unreasonable expectations.

Here are some practical tips teachers can adopt to help with the Golem effect.

  • Mirror Excellence To Your Students

You are modelling excellence to your students through your interactions. Simple things like ensuring your lessons are well-structured and appropriately delivered. 

You are ensuring that your learning environment is conducive and all learning materials are well organised and easily accessible. This simple act communicates excellence and attention to detail to your learners.

Excellence is a habit that can be cultivated in the lives of your students when you mirror the same for them to imitate.

  • Acknowledge and Celebrate All Victories

Words of affirmation are ways teachers can acknowledge and celebrate seemingly small victories.

Similar to the way pre-school educators celebrate every accomplishment, even something as small as a picky pre-schooler finishing his meal and vegetables is a huge win.

The same should be adopted at all stages of learning. Words like you did a great job, excellent behaviour, and you were punctual today; I am proud that you can make a difference in the life of your learners.

  • Do Not Accept Failure

It is a known fact that most teachers do not like when their learners fail. However, the way to positively combat failure depends on how teachers react to failure in their learners. Rather than communicate disappointment, communicate your desire to understand ways in which you can support their learning. It’s your job to teach them, and if they fail to learn, it simply means you failed at your job; your success is theirs, and if they fail, it comes back to you.

This collaborative approach would help and show them how you would never give up on them.

How Do You Stop or Manage the Golem Effect?

The most effective way to combat the Golem effect is to apply the Pygmalion effect. This concept shares the same philosophy as the Golem effect that expectations possess the power to change reality. The difference, however, is that the Pygmalion effect states that expecting the best from others evokes the best results.

For example, Mr Greg, a school teacher, expects his student Gina to do well in the exams. This expectation influences her behaviour in what is known as the Pygmalion effect. 

The teacher may spend more time helping Gina understand a topic or may provide more in-depth feedback when Gina misunderstands a concept.

It is essential for people in leadership positions to replace poor expectations with positive expectations, as the Golem effect can hinder people from achieving their goals by making them think less of themselves.

This has far-reaching consequences across all life works, and understanding how powerful expectations are, helps you only expect the best. It is important to note that the best way to help people be their best is to believe they can win against all odds.

Similarly, the Golem creature in Jewish mythology had to be destroyed when it became harmful. Likewise, the Golem effect is destructive in real life and should be overcome.

Here are a few steps to aid you in combating the Golem effect.

Self Awareness: The first step to combating the Golem effect is to be aware that it exists in your subconscious. This awareness would help everyone in a position of authority understand how a part of their mental subconsciousness can hamper another’s progress.

Expect The Best: It might seem like stating the obvious, but expecting the best from everyone is the most effective way to overcome the Golem effect. The easiest way to do this is to apply the Pygmalion effect, simply believing the best of your students, mentees, and subordinates.


The Golem effect results from believing and expecting the worst from people usually under your authority. The best way to prevent it from taking root in your thought life is that the effect can have drastic consequences that could last a lifetime. The only way to negate the effect of Golem is to believe the exact opposite, which is known as the Pygmalion effect.

Practising metacognitive strategies can help teachers and people in authority combat the Golem effect in their learners or subordinates. Your thoughts shape the world, and kind words and actions make a difference in the lives of others. Having an optimistic outlook is key to the success of the next person.

  • Angela Kayode-Sanni
  • on 10 min read


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