The Pygmalion Effect in Everyday Life or Got to Get You out of My Life

“Thoughts are like arrows; once released they hit their mark.  Guard them well or one day you may be your own victim –Navajo


There is something known as the “Pygmalion effect” that people consistently demonstrate during social interactions to the detriment of others.  Study after study demonstrates that our beliefs and expectations about any person have enormous influence on their future behavior. Invariably, we get what we expect.  You’ve taken upon yourself the power and authority to judge what another person is capable of or not– without input from anybody else—much less bother  asking the one being judged.

It occurs in the military, business, schools, organizations, and relationships. Surprisingly little has been written about the interpersonal politics of and individual fallout from this interpersonal phenomenon.  The nature and degree of adverse effects are unknown but very consequential.

Interpersonal Effects and Consequences

Given the presence of the Pygmalion effect, related perceptual and cognitive errors, that can have a profoundly negative impact on “others” people need to be aware of and take responsibility for the power and influence that go along with our expectations of others.  I believe common sense and a sense of solidarity  nudges us to take responsibility for the consequences of our expectations.  This applies to all relationships.


Let’s pretend you decide that I am unwilling or unable to function as a competent friend or partner.  This assumption affects every interaction we have.  You see and get want you expect.  You create a self-fulfilling prophesy-literally.  It would be impossible for me to do anything that could challenge this assumption because judgment had already been rendered isn’t subject to change.

While we don’t need a particular individual to believe in our ability to function as a strong friend or partner, it doesn’t hurt if there is a whiff of suspended disbelief coming from another.    For myself, I believe I have a responsibility to retract and dispose of assumptions about people that contribute to their undoing. It’s not so hard once we get past the process of unlearning our lifelong practice of  burdening people with out assumptions.

Ultimately your belief does not alter reality.

However, during our relationship I can mistakenly  permit your beliefs  (though the Pygmalion effect suggests it might not be all choice)  to influence me.  Now, all of my confusion is leaving. I don’t need you to believe in me to believe that I could be a good friend for those who consider it a possibility.    For my part, the cause of most interpersonal turmoil is a fundamental disconnect between your view of me and my experience of me.

The continual message that I am “not able to function as a real friend or partner” requires considerably more effort to move beyond your expectations. I am able to be a real partner no matter that you think.  Your expectations make it impossible for you to see in me or in my thoughts and actions  anything that might contradict a mistaken assumption you adopted long ago.

Personal Responsibility

We each have more power than we know to influence the lives of those around us.  I want to be able to judge not and believe in everyone.  We have no right to mess with another person’s life by assaulting them with out assumptions.

This energy and presence of someone who lapses into a steady state of not believing in others is itself difficult to be around. Usually, we attempt to justify our error by citing a long list of how and who burned us, betrayed us, used us.  So, everybody in the world becomes guilty by association——as soon as the association begins anyway.

You are playing a major role in all the difficult things in your life.  And we mess with others lives when we throw our beliefs and attitudes on them.  Usually humility is the best medicine to minimize the frequency of incidents of the Pygmalion effect “committed”.  Truth is that throwing our attitudes and beliefs on others is a violation of interpersonal ethics and law.

We’ve only just started to take seriously holding people within a community accountable for violating fundamental interpersonal agreements.  Every step is a step along the way.


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