The Pygmalion effect

Ademilola Adewumi
3 min readAug 11, 2022

As a psychology student, a part of my course is knowing how to conduct research and give accurate results while ensuring all my variables are controlled. In other words, I must make sure that if I conclude, it has to be under no external influence and the research can be performed by someone else, the same way I did and they too would come to the same conclusion. Something called threats to validity affects the replicability of research, and an interesting threat is Experimenter Expectancy. Experimenter expectancy is behaving how you think a person expects you to behave, affecting the generalizability of results. Experimenter Expectancy originated from the Pygmalion effect also known as the Rosenthal effect and was discovered by Robert Rosenthal. The effect was named after a greek myth, Pygmalion, the sculptor who was so deeply in love with his perfectly crafted statue that it came to life.

In the year 1963, Robert Rosenthal, a researcher, divided a group of students into two groups. He gave the groups each, lab rat to tend to. The first group had lab rats labeled, “Maze smart”, and the second group had lab rats labeled, “Maze Dull”. The conclusion of the experiment showed that the rats labeled smart did better than the rats labeled dull. He gave the two groups standard lab rats with no difference in intelligence whatsoever but because he called a set of rats smart, those who tended to the rats regarded them as such thus resulting in them doing better than those regarded as dull. This experiment was also done on students of an elementary school in California.

Rosenthal wanted to know if the behavior of teachers would change towards a certain number of students that were regarded as smart. He selected a group of students and gave them an IQ test. After the test, he divided those groups of students into experimental and control groups by randomly assigning them into the groups. The experimental group consisted of those who were regarded as smart. Rosenthal observed the behavior between the teachers and students. At the end of the study, he conducted another IQ test for both sets of students and the students in the experimental group did much better than those in the control group.

According to the study, the students in the experimental group did better because of how the teachers behaved toward them. The experiment here was carried out on the students as well as the teachers. For the teachers, as I said earlier, to observe how they would react to students regarded as smart. For the students, to observe if the expectations of the teachers would affect their performance. From the result, we see that because the teachers expected the students to be smart, they were treated as such. This tells us that there is a high probability that positive expectations birth positive outcomes while negative expectations births negative outcomes.

Experimenter expectancy is a terrible thing for researchers because it most times means starting the research all over again. In a real-life application, it is an excellent form of motivation, for yourself and others. Start the day with positive affirmations, and start a task with a positive attitude. Believe in yourself.

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Ademilola Adewumi

A psychology student. A writer. I love God, music and cookies.