Pygmalion Effect: What It Is, How You Can Leverage It

Pygmalion Effect: What It Is, How You Can Leverage It

The Pygmalion effect or Rosenthal effect - named after the German psychologist who first studied it - is a mechanism of psychological suggestion for which a person's results come influenced by expectations of those around him.

The name derives from an ancient Greek myth, that of the sculptor Pygmalion: he so desired that the statue of a woman he had made was human that it, at a certain point, came to life.

The Pygmalion effect therefore explains the phenomenon of the so-called "self-prophecycome true”, In which one's own and others' expectations end up turning into reality.

And so, for example:

others expect you to be able to do a certain thing -> you convince yourself that you are actually able to do it -> and here it is you'll make it!

It is not, as some would like, a surreal and anti-scientific "law of attraction", but a well-known psychological mechanism, demonstrated more than 50 years ago in a famous experiment.

Pygmalion effect: Rosenthal's experiment

Rosenthal conducted his experiment in 1964, in an American elementary school.

First, he gave all the children an IQ test.


  • communicated to the teachers the list of pupils who were "smarter"
  • he ordered them to keep it a secret, both from the pupils themselves and from their parents
  • he instructed them to treat smarter children just like everyone else

But actually - oh, how cool psychological experiments are sometimes! - the names on the list had been extracted blindly among those of all the students….

It was therefore not a question of the most intelligent children, but of a group of children taken at random among all those in school.

Yet, when a year later Rosenthal returned to measure the IQ of all the pupils, he saw that those on the list had improved, on average, far more than those off the list.

He therefore concluded that the expectation of teachers during the year it had positively affected the performance of the children on the list.

Remarkable then was the fact that this conditioning it had been completely imprinted unconscious.

We saw in fact that the teachers had been instructed to treat those children exactly like everyone else, and so they were convinced they had.

Yet, in some way, they had transmitted to the supposed "more intelligent" different signals from those passed on to the rest of the class.

Negative Pygmalion effect

Therefore, the positive expectations of those around us can positively affect our results.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true: negative expectations of those around us can make us believe that we have limits that in reality we do not have at all.

This triggers a phenomenon opposite to what we saw at the beginning of the article.

Others expect you to NOT be able to do a certain thing -> you convince yourself that you actually are NOT -> and here it is You can not do this!

Another time the self-fulfilling prophecy, in short, but seen from the opposite perspective.

It is the so-called negative Pygmalion effect, or GOLEM effect, from the name of the clay giant spoken of in Jewish folklore.

It exerts a push opposite to that of the positive Pygmalion effect, and together with it plays a decisive role in forming your Mindset.

The belief system on the basis of which you think and act is therefore, in large part, the result of external conditioning:

Slowly, in a subtle way, you are programmed. Beliefs are created for you that cement themselves into your personality. Without your realizing it, before you were 10, others shaped your way of thinking with respect to relationships, success, your abilities and the possibilities that the world offers you.

That the consequences of this programming are negative when it comes to the Golem effect is clear to everyone.

Many however do not realize that even the Pygmalion effect can hide pitfalls. 

In fact, do not forget - to go back to the original Greek myth - that Pygmalion was a sculptor, and the statue of a woman he made was made to his taste and liking, without there being a space of freedom for it. 

The Pygmalion effect can therefore also do damage, in particular in 3 cases:

  • when expectations to which one is subject are excessive, stressful, unrealistic. Anyone who has had overly demanding parents or teachers knows this very well.
  • When the expectations are you do not want from the subject, and instead represent the projections of the desires of others. This is the case, for example, of the many boys who they choose their future to make their parents happy, not to really follow one's vocation.
  • when expectations, just because very positive, make the recipient sit on their laurels. And this explains the phenomenon of those many "good but not committed" guys and that maybe in the end, despite their talent, they combine little with their life.

It would therefore seem, from what I have said so far, that:

  • If someone makes you understand that you are poor and that they have no expectations of you, it takes away your power and belief in yourself….
  • If, on the other hand, everyone reveals to you how good you are and how many wonderful things they expect from you, they risk scaring you, making you wrong choices or making you lazy….

How to get out of this impasse then e make the Pygmalion effect something truly positive for ourselves and for others?

Stopping thinking about ourselves in absolute terms and going in instead from the point of view of the Growth Mindset.

Let me tell you how. 

Pygmalion effect and Mindset

Stanford University professor Carol Dwek has identified two types of mindset among her students in a series of famous experiments.

  1. Fixed mindset: people who believe that their basic skills, their intelligence, their talents, are gods established traits, with very fixed limits, beyond which they are unable to go.
  2. Growth mindset: people who believe that their skills, intelligence and talents can be developed through effort, proper teaching and perseverance.

To learn more, you can go to the specific article in which I deal with the mindset.

Here, I will limit myself to talking about a fundamental aspect to use the Pygmalion effect to your advantage.

You see, according to the Fixed Vs Growth opposition, the point of the question is not whether you are good or bad, if you have less of that ability, whether or not you are able to do it.

The point is to think in terms of:

  • "I can improve", as growth mindset people do,
  • or “I can't improve”, as happens to those with a fixed mindset attitude.

The Pygmalion effect therefore, to be truly positive, must not simply convey the message "you are good / beautiful / good / intelligent".

Instead, you have to convey the message “if you wish, you can improve”.

In this way constraints are not created and there is no fossilization on a pre-established vision of the other or of oneself.

Instead, the emphasis is placed on the dimension of "possibility", subordinating it in any case to desire of the person.

Subtle difference, in short, but decidedly substantial.

Pygmalion effect: how to use it in your favor.

Now that you know the Pygmalion effect and the Golem effect, you can start defending yourself from their negative consequences:

  • Analyzing expectations, even unconscious ones, that others have about you
  • Resisting the temptation to conform to them (yes, because staying where they have pigeonholed you since childhood is also comfortable, let's face it. While standing up to say "I'm different from what you defined me" is a bit scary.)
  • Conceiving yourself as a individual in continuous transformation, not crystallized by the opinions of others, whether they are positive or negative.

In addition to defending yourself from the negative aspects, you can also take advantage of the positives.


Acting about the environment in which you live.

According to what we have seen so far, those around you can, more or less consciously, transmit you 4 main types of expectations:

  1. You are poor
  2. As hard as you may be, you can't get better
  3. You're good
  4. If you wish, you can improve

The people who convey the first two expectations to you, I'm sorry to say, are to be identified and then, possibly, avoided like the plague.

In fact, they throw a mixed of Golem Effect + Fixed Mindset able to clip the wings of even individuals with higher self-esteem.

They are what I call "toxic people".

Sometimes, unfortunately, they are so close that you just can't help but hang out with them, even for emotional reasons: so, now that you know their game, try to limit negative effects that it has on you.

Type 3 people, on the other hand, have an especially positive effect.

The problem is that, together with their esteem and trust, they give you a limiting way of looking at yourself.

So be careful not to get imprisoned by their expectations!

Finally, type 4 people are the ones you need to try to surround yourself with if you want the Pygmalion effect to give you maximum results.

They trust you and your ability to improve yourself, but they don't pigeonhole you in a form pre-established by them.

And they are also the kind of people you have to try to be you with others.

Pygmalion effect "in subjective"

So far we have talked about how the Pygmalion effect can affect your behaviors and results by affecting the opinion you have about yourself.

Before we finish, however, it is worth remembering that the opposite is also true.

You too, that is, project expectations onto others.

And through them you contribute to creating in them empowering or limiting beliefs, a "fixed" mentality or a "growth" mentality, self-esteem or distrust.

Furthermore, the stronger the emotional bond or your authority towards them, the greater the effect you could have on them.

It is a great responsibility!

Especially since, as we have seen in Rosenthal's experiment, expectations and beliefs can also transpire unconsciously.

So ask yourself, when dealing with your loved ones, what model of projection of expectations you are using:

  • Do you communicate empowering or limiting beliefs?
  • Does it feed their self-esteem or their distrust?
  • Have you pigeonholed them in one form or do you keep all possibilities open to them?

Now that you know the Pygmalion effect, I hope you can handle this responsibility better! A greeting. Armando.

add a comment of Pygmalion Effect: What It Is, How You Can Leverage It
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.