What are your expectations?

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 the students in a certain grade level were given a test called the "Harvard test of inflected acquisition". They then selected certain students for a particular class and the teacher was told that these students scored higher than average on the test and that was an indication that they were more likely to bloom during the school year.

At the end of the school year, all the students were again tested. The results were very interesting. The students in the special class, the ones that had been labeled academic bloomers, scored on average 12% higher than the students at the same grade level in the other classes. The students were also rated higher on behavioral attributes. They were rated as more willing to learn, easier to get along with and in general better students.

Surprising fact about the study

The most interesting thing to come from 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 all the same. The only difference between the special students and the other classes was the teacher believed that the students were capable of doing better and therefore they did.

Now of course this is very interesting, but what does it have to do with you and everyday life? A lot more than what you may think. How you expect people to perform has a real influence on how they actually perform. In the experiments the teachers communicated their expectations in non-verbal ways. But the students were able to understand and perform in accordance with the expectations.

Children are exceptionally good at picking up non-verbal signals. Have you ever been having a disagreement with another adult and a young child walked in the room? You both may have stopped the argument but the child still "knew" something was wrong. Children are really good at picking up on non-verbal signals.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

We have to be very careful about what signals we send them. We need to understand that our expectations have a significant impact on a person's behavior. This is particularly true for children. They can pick up the message. And if our message is you are a failure ... then we are turning them into a failure. On the other hand, if we set high expectations for those children under our circle of influence, they have a much better chance of achieving what is expected of them.

It is not only children that are influenced by our expectations. Think about your relationships with your family, your friends and the people you work with. What are your expectations? Do you project negative or low expectations? Or do you expect them to excel? This is just one example of self-fulfilling prophecy.

We need to set high standards for ourselves. We need to expect that we will be successful, that we will do the right thing.

How often have you heard people say, "Oh, I can never do anything right?" Or "I am nothing but a klutz." When we talk to ourselves this way, we are giving ourselves permission to be a low achiever. We are giving ourselves permission to fail. If we expect failure, that is what we are going to get more times than not.

You tend to get from people what you expect of them. If you want people to perform better, to achieve more, then expect them to do so. Your expectations have a real bearing on the way people perform.

Often we are not aware of the subtle signals we send to others. But you should be aware that others pick up these signals. They may not be consciously aware of the signals or the fact they have picked up on them. But the influence is still there. And it has a real influence on how they perform.

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Comments 19 comments

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Very interesting hub, John--with multi layered implications for children and adults.....and for each of us individually. Thanks

In The Doghouse profile image

In The Doghouse 8 years ago from California


This is a really great point to consider. I for one have always believed in the concept of "self fulfilling prophecy." Maybe it was because my mother was in education for years, and she always preached this same message to me. If you think you can do it, you can. If others think you can do it, it does add influence to your ability. This is something that should be pondered as we influence the lives of others by our attitudes. We really do have a lot of power that we need to channel better, don't we! Thanks.

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author

Robie & Doghouse - thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I think this is something we need to be reminded of from time to time.


francetales profile image

francetales 8 years ago from Toulouse, France

Well I certainly studied this case when I was in grad school to become a teacher. In public schools, however, there are so many variables, it's hard to get teachers to buy into the idea. Now that I am teaching English in France to engineering graduate students it is easy to have high expectations. In fact many of them like coming to English class because it is the least difficult of their classes and it is fun. I keep having to raise my expectations because they consistently meet and exceed them.

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

I believe in this 100%. I watched the labels get placed on myself and others around me growing up, and indeed it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Wonderful Hub. I am forwarding it on.

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author

Steph & France,

Thanks for reading and adding your comments. I can certainly see how grad students would be more eager than grade school students. But I think we still need to set high expectations ... for ourselves and all those in our circle of influence.

marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

I loved this! I found it to be true with my students, my children and my foster children...even myself and my husband! We self program our direction and the results reflect our thoughts and preception of our own success. Dream unrealized are not always dependent upon outside influences but those within our head and heart. We do what we think. Think and visualize success and it will come

It's not a secret...it's been around since time. Aim High, you'll get there or get close. Very interesting information and I thank you for putting this together. We should be glad as it shows the power lies withIN. thank you and thumbs up! Marisue

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author


Thanks for your comments. They not only confirm but add to the lesson. I am always thankful when someone adds additional insight to the lesson.


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

another thought; sometimes it is fear of failure and maybe even fear of success that keeps us from reaching higher

Michael Jordan says this: I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. "

we learn and learn and learn as we pray for success, God gives us failure, in answer to those prayers, so we learn to succeed. Make sense? well, maybe that's why I've screwed up so many times!!! God WAS answering. LOL =0

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author


I often teach people, if you want to succeed, fail more often. I have a friend that teaches a class titled "Souls don't grow in the sunshine". The point of the class is that our greatest growth comes from our darkest times. We do not grow when things are great. We learn and grow from adversity.

Thanks for sharing your valuable insight.

amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

Excellent hub, John! This is a great reminder for me today. When dealing with my children, I sometimes forget how perceptive they are to every little non-verbal clue. Hmm...just another challenge to add to my list! My mother is sure that the only reason she has been an overachiever all of her life is because her mother was convinced she was brilliant and always expected her to perform as such.

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author


I think we all make that mistake of forgetting how perceptive children are. I think we also thing that if we set lower expectations we save them from too much pressure.

We all need a certain amount of pressure to do our best. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your comments.

marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

I re-read yourhub today, I do that a lot, going back and re-reading what everyone writes...anyway - what came to mind is that flowers need the dark to bloom. Isn't that interesting?

Now, God, if you're listening, that doesn't mean I'm asking for more adversity, thank you very much. =) (You have to be careful what you say, He hears everything.)

When we lost our house to fire, I was criticized a little from well meaning friends about how much I let my kids in on the problem and solution. It was a family affair; we cried together; got mad together; even got mad at God sometimes; sacrifice hurts. I supported my kids through it but I didn't shield them from it.

I really felt they needed to feel the loss, learn that we can get by without all that we had; we can re-build; and things like this in life just happen. It's not a fairy tale. Reach up, achieve. Fight back. Give. Give out, then try again. good hub, thought provoking...

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author


Thanks for your valuable comments. I totally agree.

One of my goals in life is to get people to think. I do not ask that people agree with what I say, just that they think about things a little deeper and come to their own conclusions. So in my mind the highest compliement anyone can pay a person is that their ideas were thought provoking.

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Great thought provoking topic. We do put ourselves down at times I know I did.

And then went the opposite way and deciided not to care what others thought. But glad to say I now am in the middle of both. haha

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee Author


Thanks for reading and commenting.

Ms Chievous profile image

Ms Chievous 7 years ago from Wv

that is a great quote! You get out of life what you put into it.. sometimes it hard to remember

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 7 years ago from Tennessee Author

Thanks for your comment Ms ... and yes we need to be reminded often ... so we keep the important things in mind.

Biya 4 years ago

Well said

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