Pygmalion Effect

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In 1911, researchers begin taking special interest in a
horse owned by a German mathematician named Von Osten.
The horse, aptly named Clever Hans, was reported to able to count -
add, subtract, multiply and divide.

 

It was even suggested that Clever Hans could spell and solve
problems involving musical harmony.

 

As mystifying and even magical as this seemed to be, it was
concluded following a rigorous study, that in fact Clever Hans
possessed no highly intelligent factors nor extraordinary abilities.

 

It was simply a case of Clever Hans performing what had become
expected of him.

 

Two researchers, Stumpt and Pfungst, realized that when the handlers
of Clever Hans posed questions to him, they were providing subtle
physical and verbal cues to the horse as it pertained to the answer.

 

This reality was summarized in the book, 'Teachers and the Learning
Process' written by Robert Strom (Prentice-Hall, 1971):

 

"Among the first discoveries made was that if the horse could
not see the questioner, Hans was not clever at all. Similarly, if the
questioner did not himself know the answer to the question, Hans
could not answer it either... A forward inclination of the head of the
questioner would start Hans tapping, Pfungst observed... as the
experimenter straightened up, Hans would stop tapping - he
found that even the raising of his eyebrows was sufficient. Even the
dilation of the questioner's nostrils was a cue for Hans to stop tapping."

 

In short, inadvertently, people were offering the correct answers to
Clever Hans by communicating their expectations via physical signs -
and Hans learned to pick up the signals, no matter how subtle.

 

This ascension to what is expected of you is known contemporarily
as self-fulfilling prophecy and was outlined originally in 1957 by a
sociology professor Robert Merton, at Columbia University. In his essay,
'Social Theory and Social Structure', Merton suggested that "a false
definition of the situation evokes a new behavior which manes the original
false conception come true".

 

Simply stated, once an expectation is set, even one of false conception,
you will act in certain ways that are consistent with that expectation,
causing the results of the expectation to become true.

 

The birth of this theory may actually be found in ancient mythical legend.
It is written in the tenth book of Metamorphoses, that the sculptor, Pygmalion,
who was a prince of Cyprus, sought to create an ivory statue of his ideal mate.

 

The result of his work was an extraordinarily beautiful sculpted woman,
which Pygmalion named Galatea. Because of her beauty, Pygmalion fell
desperately in love with the sculpted and began praying to Venus to bring
Galatea to life.

 

Venus granted his prayer and thus became what is now known as the
Pygmalion Effect.

 

The expectations you direct towards a person, event or even yourself,
will eventually come true.

 

This theory has transcended to become a key instrument of learning for
managers and supervisors in the business world.

 

It was descried by J. Sterling Livingston in the September/October
1988 Harvard Business Review in an article entitled 'Pygmalion in Management';
"The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they
expect of them".

 

The Pygmalion Effect can either elevate a workers productivity or entirely
undermine it. For instance, workers who receive continuous verbal praise
for their efforts, while being supported by non-verbal means, will aspire
and ascend to even more productivity. In contrast, if a worker receives
less praise or even communication from management than their peers or
co-workers, although nothing is being conveyed verbally, the worker feels
as though they are underappreciated and will see a lapse or decrease in
productivity.

 

Livingston substantiated this point -

 

"If he (the manager) 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".

 

Now, apply these realities to the world of youth sports and coaching.

 

If inappropriate managerial skills, in the form of limited positive affirmations
or feedback, can effect an adult to the degree that they will have 'scars...
cuts deeply into their self-esteem and distorts their image of themselves as human
beings'
, what do you think happens to children under the pressure of
inappropriate coaching?

 

In understanding the relevancy and practicality of the Pygmalion Effect, answer
these questions for yourself:

 

 

- Why doesn't a 'one size fits all' coaching approach work?

 

- Do coaches treat all of their athletes the same, or do they every so
subtly play favorites?

 

- What would happen to the ability and self-esteem of young
athletes if their coaches and parents demonstrated great pride
in their efforts and positively voiced a level of expectation, based
entirely on the notion that the coach 'knows' the young athlete could
achieve this?

 

- Should we make our young athletes more concerned about the
results of a game or training session, or spend our energy with heaping
positive praise and expectation on them because we know that they
are capable of anything?

 

Here is a list of Pygmalion-based coaching strategies for you to use with your
young athletes:

 

a. Provide athletes with the opportunity to experience increasingly
challenging exercises or drills, but do so by making sure that they
succeed at each respective level along with way. Many trainers and
coaches prescribe exercises or drills that are too hard or difficult
for their athletes. Regress the exercise so that your athletes
can perform it competently before moving on. Not only is this sound
from an athletic development standpoint, but also will do wonders for a
child's self-esteem.

 

b. Design training exercises that allow your athletes to create
solutions to a proposed problem. For instance, create obstacle
courses that require both athletic skill and cognitive reasoning, and
have your athletes work as a unit to solve the equation. Enabling
your athletes to work as a team through participation in successful
projects increases individual self-efficacy and brings continuous productivity.

 

c. No matter how large your training group or team, purposefully spend a
few moments every session or practice working with each member
individually. This can be as quick as a 10 second pointer or 2 second
high five and positive comment. Focus on positive commentary associated
with what the athlete is doing right and not what they are doing wrong.

 

d. Ask your young athletes what they think. As it relates to a game strategy,
exercise selection or set to rep ratio, get your athletes involved in the
process of making decisions. Engaged athletes feel as though they are
important, and there productivity will reflect this.

 

e. Always project the sincere feelings that you are here for them. You are not
here to win the plastic trophy, to get a great testimonial from their
parents or to have them become the newest member of your '400-pound
squat club'. Young athletes get pulled in a variety of different directions
and their productivity or success rate is almost always more important to
other people than it is to themselves. You will find that the productivity
of your athletes will grow dramatically when they feel as though you
actually want to help them achieve there goals.

 

In conclusion, it is critical to make you aware of your own internal mental dialogue
and its relation to the way in which you relate to and coach your young athletes.

 

The following exercise (Tauber, 1997) is intended to make you more sensitive
to the power of teacher or coach expectations.

 

Without feeling restricted or inhibited, think or write down the first descriptive
thoughts that come to your mind when you think about the people outlined below.
No one is judging you, so again, be brutally honest:

 

1. A teenager from a family that has strong and vocal political party ties

 

2. A significantly overweight teenage girl

 

3. A primary school student from an affluent family and is an only child

 

4. A middle school student whose two older siblings you had as athletes
several years ago - each of whom was often a troublemaker

 

5. An Asian boy who is the son of a respected university math professor

 

Do you see how your initial beliefs may entirely dictate how you relate to
or even coach these youths?

 

Do your initial beliefs and potential subsequent actions communicate a
level of expectation to these youths that you may be unaware of?

 

Do these expectations serve to potentially restrict the athletic development
or self-esteem acquisition of these youths?

 

The Art of Coaching is an incredibly intricate and important element within the
youth sports and training world, and one that we must examine further.

By Brian Grasso 


Submitted by DMorgan on Mon, 08/06/2007 - 11:29am.