The Powerful Secrets of Pygmalion Effect Theories.

For those unfamiliar, here’s a definition: The Pygmalion effect is a dyadic phenomenon wherein an authority figure’s communicated expectations about an individual tend to mold that subject’s behavior towards the quality and frequency of mannerisms, expressions, and other actions interpreted by the described person as supposedly fitting him or her in that context.

What research has overlooked is the readily verifiable fact that who holds which expectations from among all known authority figures matters just as much as the type of expectations held. A simple example is a teaching assistant (TA) cheerleading the students into believing they know the exam material, followed by the instructor featuring very different content on the exam. Rational students will clearly learn their expected behavior should consist of studying anything in the lesson plan not specifically addressed by the TA!

A more complex example: An authority figure with more practical power over Person A’s professional environment — such as a personnel selection and promotion manager — will prove to be more influential in Person A’s career path and sense of professional efficacy than any number of well wishers who are seen by Person A as authorities but have smaller ability, less autonomy, or infrequent access to validate or deny the ideal self of Person A.

In this latter case, Person A’s friends at other organizations, former supervisors, and strict instructors may all lavish praise on Person A’s abilities, professional aptitude, and career potential — but the only people whose opinions effectively matter are those hiring managers whom Person A encounters.

The failure of present Pygmalion theories to account for varying levels of actual authority versus perceived authority by the thus-influenced percipient is a major flaw in the model.


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