Pygmalion and Galatea Effects: Power of Expectations

Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform. The effect is named after Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor in a narrative by Ovid in Greek mythology, who fell in love with a female statue he had carved out of ivory.

The Pygmalion effect is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, and, in this respect, people 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.

Galatea is a name popularly applied to the statue carved of ivory by Pygmalion of Cyprus in Greek mythology. An allusion to Galatea in modern English has become a metaphor for a statue that has come to life. Galatea is also the name of Polyphemus’s object of desire in Theocritus’s Idylls VI and XI and is linked with Polyphemus again in the myth of Acis and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Though the name “Galatea” has become so firmly associated with Pygmalion’s statue as to seem antique, its use in connection with Pygmalion, originated with a post-classical writer. No extant ancient text mentions the statue’s name. As late as 1763, a sculpture of the subject shown by Falconet at the Paris Salon (illustration) carried the title Pygmalion aux pieds de sa statue qui s’anime, “Pygmalion at the feet of his statue that comes to life”.. That sculpture, currently at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, now bears the expected modern title Pygmalion and Galatea.

Pygmalion Effect: Power of the Supervisor’s Expectations

In the article “The Two Most Important Management Secrets: The Pygmalion and Galatea Effects” by Susan M. Heathfield she writes “Your expectations of people and their expectations of themselves are the key factors in how well people perform at work. Known as the Pygmalion effect and the Galatea effect, respectively, the power of expectations cannot be overestimated.

These are the fundamental principles you can apply to performance expectations and potential performance improvement at work. Every supervisor has expectations of the people who report to him. Supervisors communicate these expectations consciously or unconsciously. People pick up on, or consciously or unconsciously read, these expectations from their supervisor. People perform in ways that are consistent with the expectations they have picked up on from the supervisor.

The Pygmalion effect was described by J. Sterling Livingston in the September/October, 1988 Harvard Business Review. “The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them,” Livingston said in his article, Pygmalion in Management. The Pygmalion effect enables staff to excel in response to the manager’s message that they are capable of success and expected to succeed.

The Pygmalion effect can also undermine staff performance when the subtle communication from the manager tells them the opposite. These cues are often subtle. As an example, the supervisor fails to praise a staff person’s performance as frequently as he praises others. The supervisor talks less to a particular employee.

Livingstonwent on to say about the supervisor, “If he is unskilled, he leaves scars on the careers of the young men (and women), cuts deeply into their self-esteem and distorts their image of themselves as human beings. But if he is skillful and has high expectations of his subordinates, their self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop and their productivity will be high. More often than he realizes, the manager is Pygmalion.” Can you imagine how performance will improve if your supervisors communicate positive thoughts about people to people?

If the supervisor actually believes that every employee has the ability to make a positive contribution at work, the telegraphing of that message, either consciously or unconsciously, will positively affect employee performance. And, the effect of the supervisor gets even better than this. When the supervisor holds positive expectations about people, she helps individuals improve their self-concept and thus, self-esteem. People believe they can succeed and contribute and their performance rises to the level of their own expectations.”

The Galatea Effect: Power of Self-expectations

In this same article Susan M. Heathfield writes “Even more powerful than the Pygmalion effect, the Galatea effect is a compelling factor in employee performance. The manager, who can assist employees to believe in them and in their efficacy, has harnessed a powerful performance improvement tool. I’m sure you’ve heard of the words, “self-fulfilling prophecy.” When applied as the Galatea effect, these words mean that the individual’s opinion about his ability and his self-expectations about his performance largely determine his performance.

If an employee thinks she can succeed, she will likely succeed. Consequently, any actions the supervisor can take that increase the employee’s feelings of positive self-worth; will help the employee’s performance improve. I don’t mean to over-simplify this concept. Many other factors also contribute to the level of an employee’s performance including your company culture, the employee’s life experiences, education, family support and relationships with coworkers.

However, positive supervision is one of the key factors that keep good employees on the job.  Harness the power of the employee’s self-expectations to ensure powerful, productive, improving, successful work performance.”

What is the difference between Pygmalion and Galatea effect?

When people believe in themselves and succeed as a result, it’s called the Galatea effect. Even more powerful than the Pygmalion effect, the Galatea effect is a compelling factor in employee performance. The manager, who can assist employees to believe in them and in their efficacy, has harnessed a powerful performance improvement tool.

The Pygmalion effect, Rosenthal effect, or more commonly known as the “teacher-expectancy effect” refers to situations in which students perform better than other students simply because they are expected to do so. The Pygmalion effect requires a student to internalize the expectations of their superiors. It is a kind 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. 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…