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Laziness, Expectations & A Science Experiment

The pleasant California sunshine beams down on a sharply dressed man striding up to the broad double doors of a perfectly ordinary elementary school just south of San Francisco. The man’s name is Dr. Robert Rosenthal, and he knows that today is going to be anything but ordinary. He knows this because he is about to begin an experiment that will change the face of psychology forever.

The year is 1963 and the school year is just beginning. With no time to lose, Rosenthal, along with his partner Lenore Jacobson, give aptitude and IQ tests to every student in the school. As expected, some students do well while others do very poorly. However, Rosenthal has no idea which is which. He’s careful not to look at any of the test scores. When all the testing has concluded, all the teachers and faculty are called into a meeting.They wait with with curious anticipation as the scientists present their results.

In the field of scientific research, there’s a long tradition of deception. Oftentimes, it’s important that the participants involved in a study do not have all the information. Someone who was given full knowledge could inadvertently be influenced by that information, which would skew the results. So, like a good scientist, Rosenthal lies.

Having no idea what any of the actual test scores are, he’s picked some of the student’s names at random and he tells the teachers that these students are VERY intelligent and capable. He calls them “spurters.” Then, after receiving some appreciative handshakes, they pack up their gear and go home.

About nine months later, as the school year is coming to a close, the researchers return to conclude the second and final phase of their experiment. Rosenthal tests all the students once again and compares their latest scores to those from the beginning of the year. As he finishes reviewing the data a wry smile pulls at the corners of his mouth. The hypothesis he had set out to prove was correct.

The randomly selected “spurter” students all had significant increases in their scores compared to the rest of their peers. Since they were blindly chosen it’s highly unlikely that all of these children were just naturally special and gifted. The only significant difference between the spurters and the rest of the school was that Rosenthal made sure the teachers believed the spurters were special. And that belief made it so.

Nowadays, this phenomenon is called the Pygmalion effect and it crops up everywhere; in schools, businesses, sports teams, and, of course, the home.

As a parent, your beliefs and expectations for your children have a very real and measurable effect on their future performance and achievement. If you believe your child is highly intelligent and capable, you will unconsciously demonstrate that belief in your words and actions. Your child will get the message loud and clear, and they will be far more likely to rise to the occasion. Alternatively, if you believe your child is lazy, stupid, unmotivated, helpless, or (insert other negative adjective here) then chances are excellent that you will be right. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is an excerpt from our book "7 Easy Ways To Motivate Someone With Asperger's".