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Setting Positive Performance Expectations (The Pygmalion Effect)

Source | LinkedIn : By Varun Tandon

Positive expectations influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively. This phenomenon is described as the Pygmalion Effect.

According to Rosenthal and Babad, 1985, “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.”


To understand the origins of Pygmalion effect, let’s go back in time to the 1960’s and look at an experiment conducted in a school by Richard Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson. Rosenthal and Jacobson first administered an IQ Test to first and second graders. They then informed school teachers that of those students that took the IQ test, about 20%, would become intellectual boomers in the upcoming year. The teachers were also told the names of those students. Unknown to the teachers was the fact that the so-called intellectual bloomers had been chosen at random and there was no evidence that these students were in any way different than the other students in the class. Post eight months, all students retook the IQ test, and the intellectual bloomer group scored higher on the test than the students who were not designated intellectual bloomers.

The important thing was that the IQ scores of the supposed intellectual bloomers went up and there was nothing special about this group. The only difference between the intellectual bloomers and the non-intellectual bloomers, was that the teachers thought that the bloomer group would get smarter during the year and created a positive environment for success.

Richard Rosenthal shares four factors that lead to these positive performance expectations:

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