The Once Raging and Still Smoldering Pygmalion Controversy

Lee Jussim

in Social Perception and Social Reality

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780195366600
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933044 | DOI:
The Once Raging and Still Smoldering Pygmalion Controversy

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This chapter reviews the earliest empirical research demonstrating that false beliefs sometimes create their own realities through self-fulfilling prophecies. First, it reviews the earliest work on “experimenter effects”—a phenomenon whereby researchers sometimes bias the results of their own research in such a manner as to lead to confirmation of their own hypotheses. Second, it reviews and critically evaluates one of the influential and controversial studies in all of psychology: Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom study, which showed that teachers’ expectations could lead to educational self-fulfilling prophecies. I conclude that figuring out what justifiable conclusions can be reached on the basis of this study is almost impossible but that, even taking its results at face value, it found weak, fragile, and fleeting self-fulfilling prophecies, rather than the powerful and pervasive ones it has often been cited as showing. Third, this chapter reviews the immediate follow-up research to this controversial study. That work clearly showed that self-fulfilling prophecies do indeed occur (even this claim was controversial at one time); they are generally small, fragile, and fleeting (exactly as found—but not often described as such—in the original Pygmalion study); and the most controversial claim emerging from Pygmalion—that teacher expectations can alter student IQ—is, at best, weakly established.

Keywords: experimenter effects; teacher expectations; self-fulfilling prophecies; Pygmalion effect; IQ

Chapter.  8706 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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