What is the Pygmalion Effect?

What is pygmalion effect

Ivory Sculpture

This psychological effect takes its name from a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Pygmalion is a sculptor who fell in love with his own statue that he created out of ivory. The effect was proven through a study by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson in 1968.

In a nutshell:

The Pygmalion effect shows that teachers’ expectations of their students have a strong effect on student performance. If a teacher increases their expectations of their student’s performance, this will result in better student performance.

Students will internalize the expectations and labels placed upon them by their instructor and they will, in turn, self-fulfill those expectations, whether positive or negative.

Why bother?

Instructors need to realize the impact of the Pygmalion effect, and recognize that their attitudes and expectations of their students will deeply affect them. Instructors should be aware of their own biases toward students and the ways that they impose their expectations and labels in their classroom.

The how-to guide:

How can you be cognizant of the Pygmalion effect in the classroom?

Pygmalion graphic

When developing assessment tools, syllabuses and rubrics, instructors need to walk the fine line of setting high expectations but not so high that they are impossible or intimidating.  A great tip to walk this fine line is to do a pre-course survey to measure current levels of student knowledge or re-evaluate several times throughout the course to see if you can set higher expectations for your students. Try using the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique.

As the instructor, you should never predict failure in your class, don’t simply state that an exam will be difficult but that you believe they will do well if they prepare.

Though it may be a relief to vent to your peers about frustrating moments in the classroom, this can establish a culture of disbelief in your students, yourself and your department. Instructors should celebrate small victories in the classroom, providing positive affirmations and coordinating opportunities like small active learning assignments to encourage students and their work.

History lesson:

The Pygmalion effect study by Rosenthal and Jacobsen was an experience in an elementary school, they had students take IQ pretests before starting school.

They told the teachers the names of the 20% of students at the school who had a high potential for intellectual growth. However, the students names were actually selected at random.

At the end of the year, the students whose names were given to the teachers scored significantly higher, thus providing evidence of the effect.

Though the effect was first realized within the educational realm it easily can be applied to many other areas like sociology, leadership development and of course psychology.


The bottom line:

The Pygmalion effect is an excellent way to remind teachers of the impact their expectations and emotions can have on students. We can utilize this effect to set high standards for our students and use more positive reinforcement.



  1. Retrieved from http://awesomeculture.com/2011/10/03/use-the-pygmalion-effect-to-create-a-high-performing-team/ on 11/1/18
  2. Retrieved from https://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-and-learning/pygmalion on 11/1/18
  3. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/pygmalion-effect-communicating-higher-expectations-ben-solomon on 11/1/18
  4. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_effect on 11/1/18

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About the author:

Finnley Maier

Finnley Maier, is a second-year graduate student in NDSU’s educational leadership- higher education program. She is currently working as NDSU’s graduate assistant for fraternity and sorority life as well as the office manager at Concordia’s office of diversity. Originally from New York City, she is passionate about diversity and inclusion as well as making students feel supported and that they belong through leadership programming and involvement with student organizations. She is excited to be working with the Office of Teaching and Learning to explore and share different techniques and topics.

KeywordsInstructional, What is?, OTL Blog   Doc ID131858
OwnerLinda C.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2023-10-03 13:13:42Updated2024-05-03 06:12:32
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