Great Expectations

I’ve got a medal in my desk drawer at work that’s worth a handful of dollars, yet I have an identical medal at home which is worth far more.

The medal in my drawer is one of the extra medals that were purchased for our Ride for Compassion a few years ago, an annual ride from Albany to Perth. I’m not even sure why I keep it there because its value doesn’t really go beyond what it cost to buy.

On the other hand, the medal I have at home, which cost the same to buy, and was purchased at the same time, is worth so very much more to me.

Wrapped up in that medal is all the training, all the fundraising, every one of the 528.3 kilometres we cycled on that ride, including the downhills and the climbs, the hot days, the headwinds, the rain and the times I felt like putting my bike in our support bus and giving up but I didn’t.

We can give things value they wouldn’t ordinarily have.

We place significance on a range of items because we see something more than their inherent value. They carry memories, hopes and dreams. We can see something of value where others don’t.

We can also bring out potential and value in people more than we might imagine.

Sometimes we can see something of value in other people that others don’t. We can see value and significance that other people don’t even see in themselves.

We know we can boost a person’s sense of self through the words we use and the way we treat them but did you know that many people believe that even our expectations of others can make a difference too?

The Pygmalion Effect says that higher expectations lead to increased performance.

In the early sixties, Psychologist Robert Rosenthal and his colleagues tested the effect of expectations on rats.

He randomly labelled some rats bright and some dull then gave them to experimenters to put through a maze and record the results.

In one of his early experiments, he tested the effects of experimenter expectancy on maze-running performance. He had two groups of students test rats, wrongly informing them either that the rats were specially bred to be “maze dull” or “maze bright.” In reality, all rats were standard lab rats, and were randomly assigned to the “dull” and “bright” conditions. The results showed that the rats labelled as “bright” learned the mazes more quickly than those labelled as “dull.” Apparently, students had unconsciously influenced the performance of their rats, depending on what they had been told. Rosenthal reasoned that a similar effect might occur with teachers’ expectations of student performance.University of Wisconsin-Madison

Rosenthal and his colleague then went on to try a similar experiment with school students.

Rosenthal and Jacobson tested children at Oak School with an IQ test, the Tests of General Ability (TOGA) at the beginning of the school year. This test was used because teachers were likely to be unfamiliar with it, and because it is primarily non-verbal, and not dependent on skills learned in school (i.e., reading and writing). In order to create an expectancy, the teachers were informed that the test was the “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition,” which served as a measure of academic “blooming.” Therefore, teachers were led to believe that certain students were entering a year of high achievement, and other students were not. In reality, the test had no such predictive validity.

Eighteen teachers at the school were informed of the students in their classes who had obtained scores in the top 20% of this test. These students were ready to realize their potential, according to their test scores. What the teachers didn’t know is that students were placed on these lists completely at random. There was no difference between these students and other students whose names were not on the lists. At the end of the school year, all students were once again tested with the same test (the TOGA). In this way, the change in IQ could be estimated. Differences in the size of the changes for experimental and control group children could serve as an index of any expectancy effect. – University of Wisconsin-Madison

Following the experiment, there was a marked difference in IQ test score gains. Students who had been labelled as “ready to bloom” showed greater gains than the others. The expectations of their teachers seemed to make a significant difference.

While some have attacked Rosenthal’s studies and conclusions, others have supported his findings and have gone on to do more work in the area of expectancy.

Most of us know the sense of confidence we receive when we know others have high expectations of us.

What value are you placing on others? What are your expectations of those around you?

Are you a leader who has high expectations of those you lead? Are you a parent who expects great things from your children? What are you expecting from friends and family?

This week, raise your expectations. Choose to place greater value and expectations on others and watch the value of others rise.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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