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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The power of expectations

Let us look at the life of two students who are of the same mental capacity and who happen to be in the same classroom. Consider the first of the two, A: A is a very bright child, his powers of understanding are exemplary and he gels well with almost everyone he comes across. In a nutshell, A is a people’s person who is as talented as they come. Now let us consider the other student, B: B is an equally bright child but one significant difference is that he comes across as a little bit eccentric. B takes some time liking people and it is for this reason that B has comparatively lesser number of friends.

Now let us look at an incident which happened in the beginning of an academic year. The section’s new mathematics teacher has just had an introduction session for the children and she is just about to begin the class. She instantly identifies the two strong personalities that exist in the classroom in the form of A and B. While A impresses her naturally, she finds B’s attitude a bit lethargic and forms a prejudice against him that he is not sincere. Her initial classes give form to this perception. She makes it apparent that she expects a lot out of A with statements like, ‘There is my class’ brightest kid’; ‘A 99% means you are not making justice to what you have’; On the other hand, she blatantly criticizes B because of her preconceived notions. B’s confidence gets shattered and even his initial attempts at participation become void and he succumbs into his mental cocoon and stops participating in the class. When the results arrive, it is of no surprise to anyone that A becomes the topper. Only a trained eye could’ve found out that an equally talented child was struggling in the bottom few ranks of the class because of no actions of his own.

  This case, is a classic example of Pygmalion effect and its less popular corollary, the Golem effect. Pygmalion effect is first described in Ovid’s narrative poem Metamorphoses, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. A more modern embodiment of this is the play ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. It is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation that is placed upon people, the better they perform. The corollary of this is the ‘Golem’ effect which implies that lower expectations from a person result in poorer performance. Both are forms of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and in this regard, people will internalize their positive labels and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. These can be put to use in a lot of organizations wherein a manager’s expectation from an employee makes him much more enthusiastic and has a positive effect on his morale and performance. It is my personal understanding that Pygmalion effect gives a personal touch to the relationship between the manager and employee and it shows the employee that the manager cares for his growth and rates him very highly. This will, in a way, eliminate the alienation that people feel with a lot of their organizations.

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