The Pygmalion Effect

Pygmalion effect

The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, refers to the phenomenon in which there is a parallel between teachers expectations and the student’s performance. The effect is named after a narrative by Ovid in Greek mythology in which Pygmalion is a sculptor who fell in love with the ivory statue of a woman he had carved.


In education the Pygmalion effect is said to play a crucial role in the students’ performance. Good or bad, what teachers expect from students they generally get. For example negative expectations, which are often based on appearances and other factors that have little to do with actual intellectual ability, could lead to a corresponding decrease in school results .  On the other hand favorable expectation, results in good performance.

Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968/1992) showed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from some children, then the children did indeed show that enhancement. For example in an 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.


Here are some educational implications of the Pygmalion Effect.

  • Don’t judge your students by their appearance. (“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”)
  • Have confidence in your students’ abilities.
  • Never underestimate your students potential.
  • Deal with your students equally.
  • Show your respect to your students and establish a good relationship with them.


Rosenthal, Robert & Jacobson, Lenore Pygmalion in the classroom (1992). Expanded edition. New York: Irvington



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