The Pygmalion Effect
Expectations can be powerful. Even if they’re never said out loud, the beliefs we carry in our minds can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The Pygmalion effect refers to an expectation or belief inside Person A’s mind changing how Person B behaves.
In an experiment, when a man believed that he was speaking to a physically attractive woman on the phone, he acted in a way that made the woman behave more likeable and friendly.
The opposite also occurred: when a man believed the woman he was speaking to was unattractive, she behaved in a colder and more awkward manner.
To learn more about how our minds can shape others’ behavior, listen to our podcast “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies”.
“A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what’s in front of it.” Watch this video by Canon Australia to see just how powerful our expectations can be.
“As a novice computer programmer, I always got the benefit of the doubt – because I looked the part.” From Philip Guo’s “Silent Technical Privilege”. (Slate)
Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1974). Physical attractiveness. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 7, pp. 157-215). Academic Press.
Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). InJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(9), 656.
Madon, S., Willard, J., Guyll, M., & Scherr, K. C. (2011). Self-fulfilling prophecies: Mechanisms, power, and links to social problems. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(8), 578-590.
“The Pygmalion Effect” was created and developed by Olivia Kang, Kirsten Morehouse, Evan Younger, and Mahzarin Banaji with support from Harvard University, PwC, and Johnson & Johnson.
Narration by Olivia Kang
Music was composed by Evan Younger and Miracles of Modern Science
Illustrations by Olivia Kang, with contributions from Kirsten Morehouse and Patricia Liu
Editing by Olivia Kang and Evan Younger.
© 2019 President and Fellows of Harvard College