Employee Motivation, the Organizational Environment and Productivity

Self-fulfilling prophecy or pygmalion effect at work

Better Management by Perception

Key Principles

The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy can be summarized in these four key principles:

  • We form certain expectations of people or events
  • We communicate those expectations with various cues
  • People tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them
  • The result is that the original expectation becomes true

This creates a circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Does it work?

A convincing body of behavioral research says it does.

In 1971 Robert Rosenthal, a professor of social psychology at Harvard, described an experiment in which he told a group of students that he had developed a strain of super-intelligent rats that could run mazes quickly. He then passed out perfectly normal rats at random, telling half of the students that they had the new "maze-bright" rats and the other half that they got "maze-dull" rats.

The rats believed to be bright improved daily in running the maze they ran faster and more accurately. The "dull" rats refused to budge from the starting point 29% of the time, while the "bright" rats refused only 11% of the time.

This experiment illustrates the first of a number of corollaries to our four basic principles.

Next | Corollaries 1 & 2