Expectations are a form of first-class truth: If people believe it, it’s true.
In the mid 1960s, Dr. Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, conducted a series of experiments involving children in grade school. At the beginning of the school year, all students at a certain grade level were given a test called the “Harvard test of inflected acquisition”. Then students were selected for a particular class; the teacher was told that these students scored higher than average on the test and that their performance indicated they were more likely to bloom during the school year.
At the end of the school year, all the students were retested. The results were very interesting. The students in the special class — the ones that had been labeled “academic bloomers” — scored an average of 12% higher than students in other classes at that grade level. The elite students also rated higher on behavioral attributes; they were considered more willing to learn, easier to get along with, and in general, better students.
The most interesting aspect of the study was the fact that the students in the special class were not selected on the basis of the test scores. They were selected at random. The only real difference was the teachers’ expectations for those students. This experiment was repeated over three hundred times and the results were always the same. The only difference between the elite students and the other pupils was that the teacher believed those students to be capable of doing better — and therefore, they did.
Of course, this study is interesting, but you might wonder what it has to do with your everyday life. It’s a lot more relevant than you’d think. How you expect people to perform has a real influence on how they actually behave. In the experiments, teachers communicated their expectations in non-verbal ways. But the students were able to understand these cues and performed in accordance with those expectations.
Think about your relationships with family, friends, employees and co-workers. What are your expectations? Do you project negative or low expectations? Or do you expect people to excel?
Often, we aren’t aware of the subtle signals we send to others. But you should be aware that others can pick up these signals and it has a real influence on how they behave.
You tend to get from people what you expect of them. If you want people to perform better and to achieve more, then expect them to do so.
Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bear bad fruit.
1864 – 1912
Copyright © 2017 John Chancellor