The Pygmalion Effect refers to the idea that, if you expect something of someone, they will live up to those expectations. For instance, if you think your coworker, Sarah, is a genius at solving all kinds of problems, and she knows that’s what you think of her, she will strive to be even more adept at solving problems than she already is.

In this post, we will discuss the Pygmalion effect, the history, and the implications for teachers. 

What is the Pygmalion Effect?

The Pygmalion Effect, also known as the Rosenthal Effect or the self-fulfilling prophecy, is a phenomenon that occurs when someone’s expectations of another person lead them to act in ways that cause that other person to behave in the way they predicted. It is also where the expectations of a person or group directly affect their performance.

The Pygmalion Effect was named after the Greek mythological figure Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue he carved and brought to life through his love and belief in it. The Pygmalion Effect can work in two ways: either those with high expectations excel while those with low expectations falter, or those with low expectations excel while those with high expectations falter.

While the Pygmalion Effect is often seen in children and students, it can work on anyone from friends and family to coworkers and employees. For example, if you expect your friend to do an excellent job on a project at work, you may encourage them to do their best and give them more resources than they would have normally had. 

This could result in your friend actually doing a better job than they otherwise would have done. In general, though this effect has been studied most with children, it has also been shown to impact adults as well (for example, suggesting that “self-fulfilling prophecies” could be one reason for the gender gap in STEM fields), so it continues to have implications for many different areas of life.

For Teachers: Importance and implications of the pygmalion effect

The Pygmalion Effect is a phenomenon in which an individual’s performance increases as a result of another person’s expectations. This is why it is important for teachers to have high expectations of their students and let the students know about these expectations because it can help to increase their performance.

However, if the teacher’s expectations does not change student performance, this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy that lowers student performance. The teacher will come to believe that the students are not capable of doing well because they didn’t perform well and will treat them accordingly, which will only lower their performance further.

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It is important for teachers to also understand the implications of the Pygmalion Effect so that they can be sure to adjust their expectations and treatment of students as necessary.

  • Teacher expectations can impact student behavior, such as whether or not the student acts out in class or pays attention.
  • If you have low expectations of a student and treat them accordingly, they will probably not do as well as they could with encouragement.

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Examples of the Pygmalion Effect

Example 1

For example, imagine you’re a student and your teacher expects you to do really well in the class. You might end up doing better because you want to show your teacher that she was right about you

Example 2

For example, if you believe your teacher doesn’t think you’re capable of getting an A on your test, you’re more likely to get a B or C. But if you think your teacher believes you can get an A, you’ll push yourself to do well and will probably get an A.

Example 3

Another good example of this is when a manager expects an employee to be successful, and then that employee goes on to achieve success. (This was the topic of the book Pygmalion in the Classroom by Robert Rosenthal.) The opposite of this is also true: if a manager expects an employee will not be successful, then they are likely to have that outcome.

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History of the Pygmalion Effect

The effect was discovered by two scientists named Rosenthal and Jacobson, who found that when teachers told some of their students that they were about to experience a growth spurt, those students actually did experience one. 

This effect was first observed in schools by two Harvard University researchers, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson. They went into a school and gave the teachers a list of students who were expected to improve during the year, based on an intelligence test. 

The students ended up improving more than the rest of the class, purely because of the teachers’ expectations of them. However, the students selected at random by the researchers actually had higher gains than those who were identified as high achievers. 

This finding supported Rosenthal and Jacobson’s hypothesis that teachers’ expectations could positively affect student achievement.

Read: Types of Student’s Intelligence Every Teacher Should Know

Practical Tips for Teachers to Leverage the Pygmalion Effect 

As a teacher, you have the power to shape your students’ lives in ways that they may not even realize. In fact, some studies show that students who are expected to succeed often do end up succeeding, an effect called the Pygmalion Effect or Rosenthal Effect.

These studies suggest that teachers’ expectations for their students can become self-fulfilling prophecies – an effect that can be positive or negative depending on how teachers approach their expectations and how they communicate those expectations to their students. So what does this mean for you?

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It means you have the power to change how your students see themselves and how they see their futures. It’s important to be cognizant of how you’re communicating with your students and what message it might be sending them. Here are a few practical tips to help you leverage the Pygmalion Effect in the classroom:

  • Never forecast failure in the classroom. Even joking about failure can send a signal to your students that they will fail.
  • Be consistent and fair with your grading practices. Unfair grading practices (or inconsistent grading practices) can signal to your class as a whole that they are not capable of success in your class.
  • Encourage students by showing them examples of others like them who succeeded.
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice what they’ve learned, so they can see how much they’ve accomplished.

Read: Achievement Testing in Education: Meaning & Examples

Related Concepts to the Pygmalion Effect

  • Golem effect

The Pygmalion effect is often compared to the Golem effect, but it’s actually pretty different. The Golem effect runs counter to the Pygmalion effect. This describes the negative effects of believing in someone’s failure; if you expect someone to fail, they will in fact fail. The Golem Effect is when people with low expectations of others’ abilities undermine those people’s potential by treating them poorly or failing to give them opportunities for success. This can then lead to poor performance from someone who might otherwise have done well. Hence, when someone believes another person to be incapable of doing something, they don’t achieve it in some cases because they just don’t believe they can do it.

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy

When a prediction comes true because people believe the prediction will be true and act accordingly. This means that your expectations create their own reality by influencing your behavior.

  • Stereotype threat

A situation where people are afraid to violate stereotypes because they think those stereotypes are true and they’ll be judged accordingly. For example, women who take math tests may do worse than men because they worry they’ll confirm the stereotype that women are bad at math.

  • The Clever Hans effect

The Clever Hans effect refers to our tendency to unconsciously influence animals or computers by giving them cues about how we want them to behave. For example, if you tell a horse that it has correctly answered a question, it will keep on performing correctly because of these cues. Or attributing human emotions (like jealousy) to pets.

  • Nocebo & Placebo effect

The Nocebo effect is the negative counterpart of the Pygmalion effect when lower expectations result in poor performance. While the Placebo effect is the positive reaction that occurs when someone believes they’re receiving treatment even though they’re not actually getting any treatment. For example, if someone believes they are taking medicine, they may experience an improvement in their health even if the “medicine” was just a sugar pill; conversely, if someone thinks they are taking something harmful, their health may suffer even if it’s just a harmless pill.


In the words of Robert Rosenthal, “Expectancy effects are an important part of everyday life and have implications for areas as varied as sports, education, leadership, health care, and race relations.”

Therefore, ensure you remain positive in your expectations of others so as to encourage maximum output from them. The Pygmalion Effect refers to the idea that, if you expect something of someone, they will live up to those expectations. For instance, if you think your coworker, Sarah, is a genius at solving all kinds of problems, and she knows that’s what you think of her, she will strive to be even more adept at solving problems than she already is.

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