Published on December 15, 2020

The Pygmalion Effect: The Psychology of Success

The pygmalion effect is a composite concept which deals with a number of psychological facts. Today, we explore those concepts. The pygmalion effect is about expectations and how they affect people’s confidence and, ultimately, their outcomes. Hello everyone and welcome to In this article, we're going to learn about the pygmalion effect and the psychology of success.


How do our expectations affect our achievements? What happens when you expect yourself to fail? Your expectations influence and empower your goals. They motivate you, they inspire you, they challenge you, but above all, your expectations contribute to your success. If you expect yourself to fail, then you will. If you expect yourself to succeed, you may just do it.

This correlation was discovered in 1968 by Robert Rosenthal and Lenoir Jacobson. In their famous book, they explored how expectations affected success. Just imagine this: a researcher hands you a box of puzzle pieces, he gives you 30 seconds to solve the puzzle, but before you get started, he says: don't worry, this puzzle will be easy for you, you'll solve it in no time. In other words, he has high expectations of you, he anticipates that you're going to do well. By encouraging you, he shows that he has faith in you and you respond positively; you solve the puzzle in less than 30 seconds, just like he expected.

Now, let's run this scenario again. This time we're going to change the researcher's expectations. Like before, he hands you a box of puzzle pieces and you have 30 seconds to put it together, but before you get started, he says: this puzzle is way too difficult for you, I don't think you can solve it. This time the researcher has low expectations of you, he does not have faith in your ability and so, you fail. It's the same puzzle with the same time limit, but expectations can make or break your performance. Rosenthal and Jacobsen call this the pygmalion effect.

High expectations create positive results. Low expectations, on the other hand, decrease performance and motivation. This psychological phenomenon can affect you in any setting and its impact can last a lifetime. Let's say one of your co-workers makes a lot of careless mistakes. They make so many mistakes that everyone expects them to mess up. Other employees make fun of them. Your boss gives them trivial meaningless responsibilities. They're consistently ignored for raises and promotions. No one expects them to succeed, so they don't. Instead, they make more mistakes, they hold themselves back, they become the failure that everyone expects them to be.

The pygmalion effect is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The expectations of others can change who you become for better or for worse, but there's something we've missed: we've yet to uncover the real power behind the pygmalion effect.

The expectations of others are important. You may perform better when your bosses, clients and mentors expect great things from you. However, your greatest source of strength is you. No one's expectations affect you more than your own. Your expectations can lift you up as easily as they can tear you down. So, how can you take advantage of this psychological phenomenon? How can the pygmalion effect motivate your success and where does self-confidence come from? To answer these questions, let's explore three different pieces of this mysterious self-confidence. These pieces influence your expectations and change your perspective on yourself. Thanks to the pygmalion effect. They may even lead you towards success.

The four experiences

Experience may be your greatest asset. It can motivate a lifetime of confidence and passion, it expands your mind and sharpens your identity, but how does it work? Let's say you're terrified of jumping off a high dive, but you muster up all your courage and you leap from the diving board. Despite all your worries and fears, you land safely in the water below. Suddenly, your opinion of the high dive changes. You know what it's like to jump from the top. You've conquered that challenge. You've overcome that fear. You've done it once, so you can do it again and again and again.

In other words, your expectations of yourself have changed. The first time around, you expected to get hurt, you expected yourself to fail, so you ran away. Now that you have experience, you expect yourself to succeed and that's exactly what you do. Every experience in life works the same way. Take a new job for example. It seems overwhelming or intimidating at first, but experience will help you overcome your fears. You'll learn to have higher expectations of yourself, you'll learn to believe in your ability and that self-belief will give you the confidence to succeed.

If you want to find success, you need to gain meaningful experiences and plenty of them. These experiences fall into four different categories. Each category influences you in a different way, but they all play an important role in your self-confidence and success.

The first category: mastery experiences teach you resilience and courage. To have a mastery experience, you have to overcome an obstacle. Usually, something that scares you. The high dive, for example, by jumping from the high dive, you faced a significant challenge and you came out on top. That courage will stick with you for years to come.

Next, we have vicarious experiences. These experiences supply you with motivation and inspiration. To have a vicarious experience, you need to perceive something through someone else. Go to the olympics and watch someone take home a gold medal. Sit in the audience while trained actors sing their hearts out. When you witness another person's success, you grow inspired to chase your own.

Our third category is modeling experiences. A modeling experience gives you a path to follow, because you're learning from a role model or mentor. These lessons help you find purpose and direction. When you watch the people you admire, your own path in life becomes clearer.

Finally, we have emotional and physical experiences. These experiences come in all shapes and sizes. From breakups to broken bones, they teach us about ourselves, they mature us as individuals and they force us to confront uncomfortable and sometimes painful situations. In life, you'll encounter experiences from each and every category some more than others. It's not important that you chase each category individually.

Everyone has different experiences at different times. Some are empowered by lifelong mentors. Others face physical and emotional hurdles on a daily basis. You never know what kinds of experiences you'll have, but you never stop searching for them. So, make yourself vulnerable, step out of your comfort zone, take risks and sy yes to things you never thought you'd say yes to. Each experience will push you in a new direction. Each experience will reinvent and dispel your fears. In its own unique way, each experience will prepare you for success.

Basic autonomy

Experience cannot create self-belief on its own. It's a powerful foundation. It stimulates trust vulnerability and ultimately growth, but your confidence cannot flourish without a sense of control. This concept comes from self-determination theory. Self-determination theory explores the roots of human motivation. People have three basic needs: relatedness, competence and autonomy. Each need is important for your dedication, passion and happiness, but the last one (autonomy) plays a crucial role in your self-confidence.

Autonomy is your ability to make independent decisions. You need to feel control over your own life. If you don't feel control, you stand no chance of being successful, because autonomy gives you agency and agency lets you grab hold of your future, but how do you nurture this sense of control in your life? You start by taking responsibility for yourself. You practice, for example, making your own decisions.

Look in your closet, take a hard look at the clothes you wear, do you wear these things because you like them? Did you choose to dress like this or did someone make that decision for you? Now, ask the same questions of your habits, your lifestyle and your career. Did you decide these things for yourself? If you had it your way, would you make changes? If the answer is yes, then make those changes gain control of your life. Decide for yourself and then, actually, follow through. Not only will you satisfy a basic human need, you'll learn to believe in yourself, you'll raise your expectations of yourself and you'll push yourself toward personal success.

Bandura's theory

The final piece is called self-efficacy. This concept comes from a psychologist named Albert Bandura. Self-efficacy is your personal judgment of your capability. If you have high self-efficacy, you believe in your ability to face challenges and overcome them. On the surface, self-efficacy is very similar to autonomy, but the two concepts differ in one very important way: autonomy is a human desire for control. Self-efficacy, on the other hand, is your perception of your autonomy. You may have plenty of control over your life, but what if you don't believe you have control? Now, if that happens, your self-confidence will plummet and your success will follow.

Low self-efficacy increases the likelihood of failure just like low expectations. Let's say your boss gives you an important project for the week. He gives you some loose instructions and you follow his instructions to the letter.In the end, the project turns out terribly. You have the knowledge to fix it, you have the ability to fix it, but you don't feel like you have the control to fix it. So, the project fails.

Low self-efficacy has the same effect on your life. If you perceive yourself as passive and helpless, if you don't think you're in the driver's seat, then you'll never find success. Together, these three pieces transform your internal narrative. Experiences give you confidence, autonomy gives you control and self-efficacy gives you faith in yourself. Because of the pygmalion effect, we know just how powerful this narrative can be. So, expect yourself to achieve and there's a good chance you will.

Thank you for reading this article and be sure to consult our website to stay informed about our coming articles, because more incredible content is on the way.

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