Pygmalion effect: What is so expected...

What do our expectations do and how do the expectations of others affect us?

Worship, , automatically translated , Cross Church Leichlingen


I learned a new foreign word the other day in an article in the magazine "Geo", the

Pygmalion effect

Does anyone know what this is? (Wait for feedback)

Well, then I wasn't alone in having this gap in my education ;-)

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon in which an anticipated assessment of a student has such an effect on their performance that it is confirmed.


In 1965, US psychologists conducted a field experiment on teacher-student interactions at a primary school. There were three class trains there, for fast, medium and slow pupils; this is quite common in the USA.

The teachers were led to believe that a scientific test would be used to assess the children's performance potential. The teachers were told that this test would identify the 20 per cent of pupils in a school class who were on the verge of a developmental spurt. These bloomers or spurtters could be expected to show special improvements in performance in the following school year. In reality, the 20 per cent of the pupils were chosen completely at random by lot, but without the knowledge of the teachers.

In the test that was taken, the IQ, the intelligence quotient, was measured and eight months after this first test, the IQ of all the pupils was measured again. The IQ increase was significantly greater in these 20% of the pupils who had been drawn as "bloomers" than in the others.

Only the teachers knew about this alleged potential, so the factual increase in performance must have been triggered in part by the teachers' expectations.

In addition, the IQ increases were greatest among the children who had a particularly attractive appearance. It was also noticeable that the character of the so-called bloomers was judged more positively by the teachers.

There was some justified criticism of this experiment, the methods, etc. from other scientists, but similar experiments could be reproduced over and over again for many years, at least in part. Somehow that is creepy.

The precursor to the experiment just described is a 1963 laboratory experiment where students were assigned rats to find their way through a maze. The rats were all genetically from the same strain, but half of the students were told that the rats were specially bred for intelligence and the other half were told that the rat strain was particularly stupid.

In fact, the supposedly smart rats performed better in traversing the mazes. Somehow the student experimenters influenced the performance of the experimental rats in some way.

These effects also exist in a negative form. For example, if you repeatedly encounter prejudices and stereotypes, you often adopt them at some point. This is the so-called Andorra effect, named after the novel "Andorra" by Max Frisch.

You might be familiar with this: if someone is always called stupid, there is a great danger that they will eventually believe it themselves.

You become how you are seen. Other people's expectations influence one's own behaviour as well as performance and thus almost inevitably become the result.

It also follows that one has a responsibility with one's expectations of others.

Jesus' expectations of his 12 disciples

Let's take a look at a text from the Bible, the first commission Jesus sent to his 12 disciples (Luke 9:1-6; NL):

One day Jesus called his twelve apostles to him and gave them authority to cast out demons and heal diseases. 2 Then he sent them out with the mission to tell all people about the coming of the kingdom of God and to make the sick well. 3 "Take nothing with you for the journey," he instructed them, "no walking stick, no luggage, no food, no money, no second shirt. 4 When you come to a town, be guests in only one house. 5 If the inhabitants will not listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you leave, as a sign that you are leaving that place to judgment." 6 So they began to go through the villages in the area, preaching the good news and healing the sick.

First of all, it must be stated that Jesus gives his disciples a special power to cast out evil spirits and to heal all diseases. This sweeping power is a special feature that no longer applies to us today for the vast majority because, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:30 says that not all have the gift of healing.

But the disciples have been given special authority for this mission.

Were these disciples now particularly suited for this mission?

I don't think you can say that, but the disciples were rather a kind of cross-section of Jewish society. So they were not a complete cross-section, they were probably younger, they were only men, but they were from different social groups, from fishermen to tax collectors to political extremists (Zealots).

It is also interesting that the mission goes beyond mere healing. They are to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, which of course carries the risk of getting into trouble with the religious leaders.

They are to take no money, no bag, no spare clothes, so no security whatsoever. They have no guarantee that they will meet well-meaning hosts, but in this mission they are dependent on people showing them hospitality.

Jesus gave them great authority, but he also expected much from them and the task went far beyond the power they had been given.

In the last verse I read, we read that the disciples somehow carried out the commission, but we don't know how they experienced it and what happened to them.

We read only in Luke 9:10,11; NL:

10 When the apostles returned, they told Jesus about everything they had done. Then he withdrew with them to the vicinity of the city of Bethsaida. 11 But the people found out where he had gone and followed him. Then he turned to them, told them about the kingdom of God and healed the sick among them.

What they told was not handed down. Jesus wanted to be alone with them, but the people seeking help found him and Jesus turned to them and told them about the kingdom of God and healed the sick.

We also find later an event where some disciples failed. Jesus was on a mountain with Peter, John and James and while the other disciples continued to fulfil Jesus' mission and failed in one case (Luke 9:38-42; NL):

38 A man in the crowd called out to him: "Master, look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps taking possession of him. Then he screams, falls to the ground, writhes and foams at the mouth. Constantly he beats and injures him and leaves him no peace. 40 I asked your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they could not." 41 "You undiscerning, unbelieving people," Jesus said, "how long must I be with you and put up with you? Bring him here." 42 As the boy came forward, the demon threw him to the ground so that he writhed and writhed violently. But Jesus threatened the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he sent him back to his father.

Did Jesus make a mistake here? Did he send out the wrong disciples after all? Obviously he was also a bit annoyed here.

I think weaknesses and mistakes can always happen and we have to admit that to others. OK, Jesus will probably not have made any mistakes, but we certainly can't say that about ourselves.

The disciples are still on the way, just as we are (Matthew 17:19-21; NL):

19 Later, when they were back among themselves, the disciples asked Jesus, "Why couldn't we cast out this demon?" 20-21 "Because your faith is so little," Jesus said. "I assure you: If your faith were even as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you."

Certainly, this is not a command to "Believe more!", but it is an invitation to grow even more in faith.

Expectations of other people are not about talking things up. One should remain realistic, but still have positive expectations of others and I believe that Jesus has positive expectations of his disciples here. Their faith will grow and they will change the world later.

The attitude "If you expect nothing, you will never be disappointed!" cannot be right. If you don't trust others with anything, then you will certainly experience the Pygmalion effect.

In the Geo article there was also an interesting quote from the business world:

As the well-known German-Austrian entrepreneur Reinhold Würth puts it, "a management that believes that 75 per cent of the employees are lazy, poorly qualified and thieves will get exactly this workforce". If, on the other hand, it is assumed that 98 per cent of the workforce are enthusiastic and have a positive attitude towards the company, this is exactly what will happen.

But let's come back to Jesus. One might think that after this failure he would leave it for now. The disciples have to believe more, otherwise it's useless.

Sending out the 72 disciples

But in the next chapter, this is what happens (Luke 10:1-3; NL):

1 The Lord then chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead two by two to all the towns and villages he wanted to visit. 2 He gave them the following instructions: "The harvest is great, but the number of workers is small. Pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest and ask him to send more workers to his fields. 3 Now go, remembering that I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

And then the same order comes as with the sending of the 12, with very similar words: Take no money, no luggage, no security and rely on the hospitality of the people. And also the authority and the commission is the same (Luke 10, 9; NGÜ):

Heal the sick who are there and proclaim to the inhabitants of the city: 'The kingdom of God has come near to you'.

I do not believe that these 72 others were "better" than the 12, although Jesus had chosen them for this mission.

It is recorded what they experienced when they carried out their mission (Luke 10:17-20; NL):

17 When the seventy-two disciples returned, they reported to him with joy: "Lord, even the demons obey us when we cast them out in your name!" 18 "Yes," he explained to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven! 19 I have given you authority over the enemy; you can walk among serpents and scorpions and trample them. Nothing and no one will be able to harm you. 20 But do not rejoice that evil spirits obey you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

The conclusion of the passage is what is actually important, that one belongs to Jesus Christ, so that one's name is written in heaven.

We who have given our lives to Jesus Christ also belong to him and I think it can be generalised that Jesus trusts each of us with some or much and has very positive expectations of us.


One topic that plays into this complex is the topic of "delegation".

There is this beautiful episode from Exodus 18, where Moses is visited by his non-Jewish father-in-law Jethro. And he is there live, as Moses single-handedly taught the people and dispensed justice. That is, from morning until late at night, the people came to Moses to settle any matters. You can imagine that there is only one mayor in the city administration and that he also takes care of all official matters and also plays the role of arbitrator.

Jitro pointed out to Moses that such a thing is not healthy and he recommended building a structure so that responsible people are placed above 1000, 100, 50 and 10 and only the complicated cases end up with Moses.

This sounds obvious and logical and it is then done.

Why has no one thought of this before? Perhaps Moses had the secret expectation: "They won't be able to do it. Only what you do yourself will be good.

But if you do everything yourself, you wear yourself out and naturally convey to the others: "You can't do it anyway," which of course can trigger the Pygmalion effect.

The story of Mark

As another biblical example, I would like to look at the story of John Mark. This was Barnabas' cousin who made the first missionary journey with Paul.

Acts 13, 4.5; NL

4 Saul and Barnabas were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and sailed from there to the island of Cyprus. 5 On Cyprus they sought out the Jewish synagogues in the city of Salamis and preached God's word. John Mark went along as their assistant.

They then experience quite exciting stories, but after they left Cyprus, John Mark separated from them and returned to Jerusalem.

This had an aftermath (Acts 15:36-40; NEÜ):

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas: "Let us set out again and visit all the towns where we have preached the word of the Lord. We should see how the brothers and sisters are doing there." 37 But Barnabas also wanted to take John Mark with him again. 38 But Paul did not think it right to take with him the one who had abandoned them in Pamphylia and broken off their cooperation. 39 It now came to such a heated argument that they both separated. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed to Cyprus. 40 Paul, on the other hand, chose Silas as his companion. And after being commended to the grace of God by the brethren, he departed.

Who was right now? Barnabas wanted to give him another chance. He expected a change in Mark. Paul, on the other hand, did not want to work with John Mark any more.

Today it is no longer possible to decide who was right. I have also heard the theory that the dispute was allowed by God so that Paul and Barnabas would separate and thus spread the gospel even better as multipliers.

But that seems to me to be a bit of an exaggeration. They were not perfect people and therefore unpleasant arguments could occur.

Whether Paul and Barnabas got along again cannot be said exactly, there is nothing about it in the Bible, but I hope so. However, there was a good relationship between Paul and John Mark again later. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul explicitly asked Timothy to visit him and to bring John Mark with him.

It is, of course, speculation whether the fact that Barnabas met him with positive expectation led to his later becoming a reliable person after all.

Church tradition even considers John Mark to be the Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark. So something else has become of him.


I summarise.