Monday, April 20, 2009

The Pygmalion Effect: Are You Guilty?

After administering hundreds of cognitive and achievement tests over the years and listening to a few teachers or even watching little league sports, I am aware that the Pygmalion effect does exist, but I wonder at what level?

According to Wikipedia, the Pygmalion effect, (or Rosenthal effect, or Expectancy Effect), refers to situations in which students perform better than other students simply because they are expected to do so. The effect is named after George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, in which a professor makes a bet that he can teach a poor flower girl to speak and act like an upper-class lady, and is successful.

The Pygmalion effect requires a student to internalize the expectations of their superiors. It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, and in this respect, students with poor expectations internalize their negative label, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regards to education and social class.

In the Rosenthal-Jacobson Study, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968/1992) report and discuss the Pygmalion effect at length. In their study, they showed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from some children, then the children did indeed show that enhancement.

The purpose of the experiment was to support the hypothesis that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others. This influence can be beneficial as well as detrimental depending on which label an individual is assigned. The observer-expectancy effect, which involves an experimenter's unconsciously biased expectations, is tested in real life situations. Rosenthal posited that biased expectancies can essentially affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies as a result.

In this experiment, Rosenthal predicted that, when given the information that certain students are brighter than others, elementary school teachers may unconsciously behave in ways that facilitate and encourage the students’ success. The prior research that motivated this study was done in 1911 by psychologists regarding the case of Clever Hans, a horse that gained notoriety because it was supposed to be able to read, spell, and solve math problems by using its hoof to answer. Many skeptics suggested that questioners and observers were unintentionally signaling Clever Hans. For instance, whenever Clever Hans was asked a question the observers' demeanor usually elicited a certain behavior from the subject that in turn confirmed their expectations.

The issue of teacher effects, on student progress, and how students rate those teachers is of huge importance. Tim O'Shea has said that in all studies where one of the variables was the teacher, the effect of different teachers was always bigger than the effect of different treatments (usually the actual subject to be studied). Basically, teachers have a huge effect, but it's poorly understood.

The Pygmalion effect is one big demonstration of the effect of teachers, showing they can double the amount of pupil progress in a year.

Feldman & Prohaska (1979) performed an experiment to study the effect of student expectations of teachers. One group was told their teacher was "quite effective," and another group was told their teacher was "incompetent." The effect of these positive and negative expectations were measured in terms of student attitudes toward the teacher, scores on tests, and "nonverbal behavior" of the students toward the teachers. The teacher was blind to what the students thought about him/her. There were clear differences in all three measures based on a positive or negative expectation. Students with a negative expectation "rated the lesson as being more difficult, less interesting, and less effective." Students with a positive expectation scored 65.8% on the test, and those with a negative expectation scored lower, at 52.2%. In terms of nonverbal behavior, subjects leaned "forward more to good teachers than poor teachers." There was some evidence that students with a positive expectation had better eye contact with the teacher. Overall, the expectation of the teacher affects overall learning outcomes.

I would like to finish with a couple of quotes from James Rhem, executive editor for the online National Teaching and Learning Forum. He commented:

"When teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways."

"How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things turn out."

In other words, as instructors, you have a tremendous amount of power and influence and you can change a life!

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps I may be called naive for saying this but.... I can't keep quiet about this.

    If I were to truly believe in this, then is it true that I say true encouragement has long died already?!

    Well... If this is what teachers want, fine.

    That's all I can say.

    Good Day to you.


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