Social Belief and
Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
Lee Jussim, Rutgers University.
Published by Oxford University Press.
Once Raging and Still Smoldering Pygmalion Controversy
This chapter reviews the earliest empirical
demonstrating that false beliefs sometimes create their own realities
self-fulfilling prophecies. First, it
reviews the earliest work on “experimenter effects” – a phenomenon
researchers sometimes bias the results of their own research in such a
as to lead to confirmation of their own hypotheses.
Second, it reviews and critically evaluates one
of the influential and controversial studies in all of psychology:
& Jacobson’s (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom study, which showed
teachers’ expectations could lead to educational self-fulfilling
prophecies. I conclude that figuring out
conclusions can be reached on the basis of this study is almost
that, even taking its results at face value, it found weak, fragile,
fleeting self-fulfilling prophecies, rather than the powerful and
ones it has often been cited as showing.
Third, this chapter reviews the immediate follow-up research to
controversial study. That work clearly
showed that: 1) Self-fulfilling prophecies do indeed occur (even this
controversial at one time); 2) They are generally small, fragile, and
(exactly as found – but not often described as such – in the original
study); and 3) the most controversial claim emerging from Pygmalion –
expectations can alter student IQ – is, at best, weakly established.
to Pygmalion. Although controversies
surrounding Rosenthal and Jacobson's (1968) study have been well-known
years, this chapter has documented the frequency with which Pygmalion
summarized in an uncritical, oversimplified manner that consistently
the results. The Pygmalion study has
been used to justify arguments claiming that expectancy effects are
and pervasive, intelligence is primarily environmentally determined,
simple interventions can improve student achievement.
It has also been used to justify arguments
emphasizing the power of beliefs to construct social reality. Such uses of Pygmalion are not restricted to
claims published before 1973, or even before 1993.
For the many researchers who may not be aware
that the entire self-fulfilling prophecy effect hinged on the
bizarre outliers and out of range IQ scores, the sections reviewing
various critiques (Elashoff & Snow, 1971; Snow, 1969, 1995)
this state of affairs should constitute some eye-opening news.
Putting controversy in perspective.
Another purpose of this chapter has been to
point out that, although debate between the different positions is
the degree of factual disagreement between them is actually quite small. If one believes the critics, the IQ effect is
zero. If one believes the advocates, it
is very small (frequently 0, never consistently much higher than an r
.2). This chapter has not resolved this
remaining degree of disagreement. It has
pointed out, however, something that may have been lost in the heat of
controversy: Although the scientific evidence may be equivocal
whether teacher expectation effects on IQ are nonexistent or reliably
small, it is completely unequivocal that such effects, if they occur at
are not very large by any standard.
To find out how to purchase, click
Jussim, L. (2012). Social Perception and
Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. New
York: Oxford University Press.