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The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. The effect is named after a greek mythology of Pygmalion.
The corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance. The Pygmalion effect and the golem effect are forms of self-fulfilling prophecy, and, in this respect, people will internalize their positive labels, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regard to education and social class.
Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) report and discuss the Pygmalion effect in the classroom at length. In their study, they showed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from some children, then the children did indeed show that enhancement.
The purpose of the experiment was to support the hypothesis that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others. This influence can be beneficial as well as detrimental depending on which label an individual is assigned. The observer-expectancy effect, which involves an experimenter's unconsciously biased expectations, is tested in real life situations. Rosenthal posited that biased expectancies could essentially affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies as a result.
All students in a single California elementary school were given a disguised IQ test at the beginning of the study. These scores were not disclosed to teachers. Teachers were told that some of their students (about 20% of the school chosen at random) could be expected to be "spurters" that year, doing better than expected in comparison to their classmates. The spurters' names were made known to the teachers. At the end of the study all students were again tested with the same IQ-test used at the beginning of the study. All six grades in both experimental and control groups showed a mean gain in IQ from pretest to posttest. However, First and Second Graders showed statistically significant gains favoring the experimental group of "spurters." This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement.
In this experiment, Rosenthal predicted that elementary school teachers may subconsciously behave in ways that facilitate and encourage the students' success. The prior research that motivated this study was done in 1911 by psychologists regarding the case of Clever Hans, a horse that gained notoriety because it was supposed to be able to read, spell, and solve math problems by using its hoof to answer. Many skeptics suggested that questioners and observers were unintentionally signaling Clever Hans. For instance, whenever Clever Hans was asked a question the observers' demeanor usually elicited a certain behavior from the subject that in turn confirmed their expectations. For example, Clever Hans would be given a math problem to solve, and the audience would get very tense the closer he tapped his foot to the right number, thus giving Hans the clue he needed to tap the correct number of times.
|This article contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. (July 2011)|
Feldman & Prohaska (1979) sought to discover if the pygmalion effect could occur in reverse. That is, if a student's expectation of their teacher could be transmitted to the teacher and influence their performance. In the first experiment of the study, subjects were told either positive or negative information about their teacher just before the teaching session occurred. The researchers measured how the students' expectations impacted the session by considering the scores students received on the written test that completed the session, by giving the students a survey related to teacher satisfaction, and by recording the "nonverbal behavior" of the students toward the teacher. The teacher, a cohort of the researchers, was experimentally blind to what the students thought about him/her. There were differences in all three measures based on a positive or negative expectation. Students with negative expectations "rated the lesson as being more difficult, less interesting, and less effective." Students with positive expectations scored 65.8% on the test, and those with a negative expectation scored lower, at 52.2%. In terms of nonverbal behavior, subjects leaned "forward more to good teachers than poor teachers." There was some evidence that students with a positive expectation had better eye contact with the teacher. In the second experiment of the study, Feldman and Prohaska sought to directly support the theory that "the teacher could ultimately be affected by the student's differential behavior due to expectation". In this experiment, subjects were asked to teach someone a simple lesson. The student—played by a cohort to the researchers—enacted either positive or negative nonverbal behaviors toward the subject during the teaching session. Results found that subjects who received positive nonverbal behaviors reported feeling happier and more competent than subjects whose student displayed negative non-verbal behaviors. Furthermore, outside judges who rated each subject's teaching performance found, overall, that teacher receiving positive non-verbal behaviors taught the lesson more effectively. Thus, the study found that a teacher's performance is indeed influenced by the expectations—and subsequent behavior of—their students.
According to one often-cited but controversial non-scientific study of Jane Elliott, the Pygmalion effect can play a role in racial expectations and behavior. Elliott was an American teacher and anti-racism activist who devised an exercise to determine the effects of expectation and discrimination upon children, using differences in eye color to distinguish between perceptions and expectations of "inferior" and "superior". In this exercise, one group was given preference and regarded as "superior" because of their eye color, with the other group intentionally associated with inferiority in intelligence and learning ability. On the second day of the experiment, the groups were completely reversed, with those previously considered inferior one day being regarded as superior the next.
Elliott gave math tests to both groups on each day of the experiment. The students scored very low on the day they were racially "inferior" and very high on the day they were considered racially "superior."[example needed]
"When teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways." "How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things will turn out."