Pygmalion effect

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A self-fulfilling prophecy whereby people tend to behave the way others expect them to. In a famous field experiment on the Pygmalion effect in children, carried out by the German-born US psychologist Robert Rosenthal (born 1933) and the US schoolteacher Lenore F. Jacobson (born 1926) and published in a book entitled Pygmalion in the Classroom (1968), the researchers applied a standard IQ test to children in an elementary school in San Francisco at the beginning of an academic year, selected 20 per cent (about five children per class) at random, and told their teachers that the tests suggested that these children were potential academic ‘spurters’ who could be expected to show unusual intellectual gains in the year ahead. When the children were retested at the end of academic year, the ‘spurters’ showed massive IQ gains relative to the other children, especially in the first and second grades (6–7-year-old children): 20 per cent of the ‘spurters’ gained at least 30 IQ points, and 80 per cent gained at least 10 IQ points. These gains were presumably due to subtle effects of the teachers' expectations on the way they handled the children, but the experiment has been criticized on methodological grounds. See also experimenter expectancy effect, Galatea effect, Golem effect, labelling theory, Oedipus effect. [Named after George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1912), in which the linguist Professor Henry Higgins gives elocution lessons to a cockney flower-girl Eliza Dolittle and passes her off in high society as an upper-class lady—see also etymology of Pygmalionism]

Subjects: Psychology.

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