Have you ever heard about the Pygmalion effect? In 1914, George Bernard Shaw created a play called Pygmalion. You may certainly be familiar with the movie inspired from the play: My Fair Lady. This is one of my favorite movies. Audrey Hepburn plays the lead role. She is a pretty little flower seller who meets an eminent professor of phonetics. He casually wagers that he could teach her to speak “proper” English, thereby making her presentable in the high society of Edwardian London, and he succeeded.
Very Exciting, I highly recommend the movie!
Let’s go back to the Pygmalion effect. Robert Rosenthal, a professor of social psychology at Harvard and Lenore Jacobson, an elementary school teacher in San Francisco, conducted in 1965 a study known as “Pygmalion in the Classroom”. In their class experiment, Rosenthal and Jacobson told teachers early in their school year that, based on the result of IQ test, some of their students had above average academic potential (a group labeled “bloomers”). In actuality, these “bloomers” had been randomly selected, and were on average, no smarter than the other students in their classes. The teachers were unaware that the feedback to them had been falsified, and the students were not told about the label given to them. By the end of the school year, the bloomers showed significant increase in their IQ scores when compared to students in the control condition. Teachers’ expectation had come true (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968).
My first thought after reading this study was how to apply the Pygmalion effect in my professional and personal life. I have come to a strong conviction: we all have a seed of excellence in us. Just find it, plant it in a fertile soil, water it regularly and give it enough light to grow and develop. When I share my insight with those around me, I regularly hear two reactions:
- What if I do not have a seed?
- It’s so theoretical !
This is how I often answer to my loved one: First, have high expectations and ambitious goals! What this study teaches us is that having high expectations for others, lets to “self-fulfilling prophecy”. A self-fulfilling prophecy refers to having expectation about another person that influences how you perceive and behave toward that person. Your expectations, and the behavior based on these, in turn, affect the way in which that person behaves when interacting with you. According to self-theory, individuals come to “know” their own attitudes, emotions, and other internal states partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behavior and/ or the circumstances in which this behavior occurs (Bem, 1978). Thus, by having high expectation for one self and setting ambitious goal, we can make our own expectation come true.
Then, cultivate your “self-responsibility”. A quote from Nathaniel Branden’s book “The six pillars of self-esteem”, sums up pretty much the notion of self-responsibility: “No one is coming” . In other words, the wonderful teacher who will discover your fabulous potential, and allows you to shine may not cross your path. It’s better to be your own Pygmalion, it’s less risky!
Finally, discover and develop your strengths: I often ask this question during a recruitment interview: “Do you want to work on your strengths or weaknesses? Almost all candidates answer: “on my weaknesses”. When you work on your weaknesses you can go from mediocre to not bad. But, when you work on your strengths, you can strive for excellence. Manage your weaknesses so that they are not an handicap for you, but put all your energy on developing your strengths.
To conclude, you may just have to ask yourself the right questions: What do I like to do? What gives me energy? What works well in my life? What are the topics that spark my interest? When do I feel good? All these questions will give you a direction for were to look for your seed!
Bem, D. J. (1972). Self-Perception Theory. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Volume 6 Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 1-62. doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(08)60024-6
Branden, N. (1994). The six pillars of self-esteem. New York: Bantam.
Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles ; London ; New Dehli ; Singapore ; Washington DC ; Melbourne: SAGE.
Thorndike, R. L., Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the Classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 5(4), 708. doi:10.2307/1162010