Have you ever wondered why some individuals are able achieve amazing accomplishments while others are not? While there are most likely a variety of factors at play, there is some powerful research on this topic that could have far reaching implications for those around you.
Back in the 1970′s, a psychologist by the name of Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment that went on to become one of the most well known studies ever performed. In this study, students were given an intelligence test and afterwards, researchers told teachers that the testing had identified three students as having the potential to become academic superstars. The teachers were instructed not to mention this to anyone and were told to treat these three students exactly the same as all of the other students in their class. To reinforce this, the teachers were told that they would be monitored and observed to make sure that they didn’t change their behavior as a result of this information. What the teachers did not know was that the three students had tested as merely “average” and that the researchers had lied to the teachers.
At the end of the year, the students were tested again and low and behold the three identified students now tested off the charts in intellectual ability. The teachers swore that they hadn’t done anything differently with the three students and indeed, observations showed that their verbal communication had been consistent with all students in their class. However, observations went on to show that it was the teachers’ nonverbal communication that impacted the students – so much so that it transformed the students’ reality. You can imagine, with the idea in their head that these students had untapped potential the teachers may have been a little warmer, perhaps more engaging, or maybe they just smiled at the students a little more often. From this study, the phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect was born which is simply the idea that our belief in another person’s potential can bring that potential to life.
This groundbreaking study has been replicated in a variety of ways over the last several decades and the results are always the same. For instance, in a more recent study, a welding instructor was told that five men entering his class had the potential to be outstanding welders. At the end of class, records showed that the five randomly selected men scored higher than their peers on the final test, learned tasks in half the time it took the other students, were selected by their peers as the most desirable work partners and had a higher attendance rate.
What these studies prove is that when we expect good things from others our behavior changes. More importantly, we often aren’t even aware of these subtle behavior changes but they are highly influential to those around us. In fact, research has shown that holding a positive vision of others leads us to smile more, give more positive feedback and helpful hints, give more information, listen better, be more expressive and encouraging, and offer more interesting and challenging opportunities. As a result, the person on the receiving end of this positive vision experiences greater confidence and achieves at a higher level.
So think of those around you and how impactful this can be in your role as a parent, spouse, friend, colleague, etc. Think of the words and images you use to describe the people around you. Think of the expectations you have for those same people. And now, realize the incredible opportunity you have to change your perception of others and help them step into their fullest potential as human beings.
“Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”