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The Pygmalion Effect Sneakily Boosts Your Performance

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It's your first day of math class, and, unbeknownst to you, your algebra I teacher has been bragging on you — your new algebra II teacher has heard how smart you are, so she provides plenty of positive verbal feedback and nods of encouragement. Then, before you know it, you're at the top of your class! This is an example of the Pygmalion effect, and it explains self-fulfilling prophecies in a number of scenarios.

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With Great Expectations...

Psychologist Robert Rosenthal first captured the Pygmalion effect when studying elementary school children in the 1960s. The kids took a test that was supposed to identify "intellectual bloomers" or "growth spurters." The teachers were then given the names of these students. As TIME explains, "sure enough, these students showed a significantly greater gain in performance over their classmates when tested again at the end of the year." But, here's the thing — the "intellectual bloomers" were randomly assigned. So, what happened here?

As Rosenthal puts it, he found "that what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy." He goes on to say that the only difference between those kids and their peers was "in the mind of the teacher." The teachers believed in these 'high-achievers,' and their actions towards them reflected just that. As TIME explains, Rosenthal and others found four specific ways that "elevated expectations promote greater achievement."

Believe In Your Team

For starters, teachers and parents (or other authority figures) "create a warmer socioemotional climate" for 'high-potential' learners. Meaning, they're more apt to use positive speech, or to give a warm head nod or an encouraging head nod. They're also more likely to teach difficult material to those with 'promising' academic futures. They'll also give ample opportunities to contribute and more time to answer questions. And finally, they're more likely to offer sincere and personalized feedback that goes beyond a simple "Good job." For the elementary students in Rosenthal's study, Psychology Today elaborates that the "teachers were able to nonverbally communicate their positive expectations for academic success to these students."

The Pygmalion effect can take place in others areas of life — not just the classroom. Psychology Today notes that "Tel Aviv University professor, Dov Eden, has demonstrated the Pygmalion effect in all sorts of work groups, across all sectors and industries." For example, if your manager holds positive performance expectations for you and your colleagues, there's a greater chance that you'll live up to your potential. And if you play for Bill Belichick, you're more likely to think you can win that Super Bowl.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The more work you put toward someone, the more invested you are in them, and the more you like them. This is known as the Benjamin Franklin Effect. 00:37

  2. Here are the results of the experiment. 04:49

  3. Whether you're trying to get into a relationship or deep into a long-term one, give your partner a chance to contribute to it. 05:16

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