Relationship The Pygmalion effect: what it is and how it...

The Pygmalion effect: what it is and how it affects you


The confidence that others have in our possibilities has a huge influence on the success we finally have. Do you know how this phenomenon works?

In 1966, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, two researchers from the University of California (USA), carried out an experiment in eighteen elementary classrooms. After practicing a test on the students, they indicated to each teacher that 20% of the members of their class showed an “unusual” potential to improve their intellectual capacity. It was to be expected that they would be the best performers at the end of the course. So, it was. Eight months later it was confirmed that the performance of this group had been higher than that of the rest.

So far, nothing that surprises us. The interesting thing is that, in reality, the supposedly brilliant students had been chosen completely at random, regardless of their intelligence tests. What had happened?

Experiments with a very similar format have been repeated a large number of times and it has been found that, on the one hand, teachers devote more attention and offer greater support to students who prejudge them as “better” and, on the other, than schoolchildren. they are applied very differently depending on how they feel valued by educators. Teachers tend to offer those students who they judge as more capable more emotional support, clearer feedback on their progress, better opportunities for development, and they do more to motivate them.

The expectations of the teacher are, therefore, one of the most influential factors in the school performance of their students. This psychological relationship is called the Pygmalion effect.


This name comes from the play Pygmalion, by Bernard Shaw, about the transformation of a rude florist into a lady of London high society thanks to the training of Professor Higgings, characters that George Cukor immortalized in the film My Fair LadyBernard Shaw titled his work in memory of the monarch of Greek mythology who sculpted a statue of an ideal woman and convinced the gods to make her his flesh and blood wife.

  • The Pygmalion effect has a positive sign when the image of ourselves that we receive from the environment is superior to our own and serves as a stimulus to improve.
  • However, the Pygmalion effect is negative when the image they attribute to us is discouraging and pushes us not to trust our potential qualities.


The Pygmalion effect is not limited only to the relationship between teachers and their students. It can appear in any relationship in which one of the parties is considered more prepared than the other.

The vision that a manager has of the people in his charge generates a transcendental impact on them, since employees tend to respond according to the expectations they receive from their superiors. The negative images that managers project hinder self-confidence and are the cause that their subordinates find it more difficult to display their talents because they fall prey to insecurities and fears.

In sport we currently find a great profusion of coaches who put the “positive” Pygmalion into practice. The case of coach Pep Guardiola is well known, who, reiterating to the young Leo Messi that he had the skills to be the best footballer in the world, saw the self-fulfilling prophecy.

In healthcare, the expectations of the physician create a Pygmalion effect on the patient’s recovery. It has also been proven that the placebo effect is stronger when the belief in the effectiveness of the treatment is shared by all the members of a group.


However, there is one area where the Pygmalion effect can have disastrous consequences: in the relationship.

Too often someone assumes the union with a person who considers imperfect in the hope of bringing it to an alleged perfection through coexistence.

This relentless inquisition may be due to two different causes that are worth differentiating:

  • That the couple is a narcissistic and manipulative person, in which case it is necessary to recommend an urgent dissolution of the couple for mental health.
  • That he is behaving under Pygmalion syndrome. In this case, both protagonists must be reminded that true love begins with the mutual acceptance of their respective personalities. It is about helping to grow, about enhancing the qualities of the person with whom one lives, not about wanting to change behaviors that are prejudiced as faulty and unwanted.
MindFixes Staff
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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