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The Pygmalion Effect

People (pupils, subordinates, and so on) tend to act in accordance with the expectation of others (teachers, managers, and so on). In particular, the former may, to some degree, internalize the higher expectations placed on them by the latter, and then act in ways to fulfill those expectations. A pioneering work by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) shows, through their experimental research, that a teacher’s expectation for a pupil’s intellectual competence can come to serve as an educational self-fulfilling prophecy, and names this phenomenon the Pygmalion effect after Greek myths. Livingston (1969) discusses the Pygmalion effect in managerial setting. He argues that a number of case studies and experiments reveal the following:

  • “What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.”
  • “A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.”
  • “Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.”
  • Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.”


From these existing studies, we can summarize the way the Pygmalion effect occurs as follows:

  1. A manager’s high expectation influences her attitude toward her subordinates.
  2. Such attitude has positive effects on subordinates’ self-expectancy.
  3. The subordinates’ enhanced self-expectancy then improves their performance.

The last part of this process, that a person’s enhanced self-expectation improves his own performance, is often called the Galatea effect. For example, Kierein and Gold (2000) explain the Galatea effect as one of other types of expectation effects: “The Galatea effect occurs not when the leader has expectations of subordinates, but when subordinates’ raised expectations of themselves are realized in their higher performance.” They however state that it is part of the Pygmalion effect, and examine the Pygmalion and Galatea effects together in their meta-analysis.

Via The Pygmalion and Galatea Effects: An Agency Model with Reference-Dependent Preferences and Applications to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

Malcolm Gladwell tells us this much in Outliers.

(h/t PSY-FI blog)