The Power of Expectations

How powerful are expectations? Very. We feed on the expectations of others.

Consider this example:

The tendency to see in others what we’ve been led to expect takes its name from Shaw’s play [Pygmalion]. Called the Pygmalion effect, it’s nicely suited to controlled experiments. In one of the best-known experimental investigations of the Pygmalion effect, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacboson administered what they called the “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition” to students in a West Coast school. Subsequently, they met with the students’ teachers to present the results of the test. In particular, Rosenthal and Jacobson identified certain students as very likely to exhibit a sudden spurt in academic abilities during the coming year, based on the results of the test.

When IQ test scores were compared later, the researchers’ predictions proved accurate. The students identified as “spurters” far exceeded their classmates during the following year, suggesting that the predictive test was a powerful one. In fact, the test was a hoax! The researchers had made their predictions randomly among both good and poor students. What they told the teachers did not really reflect students’ test scores at all. The progress made by the “spurters” was simply a result of the teachers expecting the improvement and paying more attention to those students, encouraging them, and rewarding them for achievements. (Babbie, 2012, p. 243)

We might apply this example in two directions.

First, whose expectations are we listening to? Are we living in light of others’ expectations? Or, are we listening to the expectations of God? If He views us as sons and daughters, how does that change the way we live now and view ourselves?

Second, what are our expectations of others? Do we see in them God-given, Christ-bought, Spirit-empowered potential? Or, do we limit them with our own lack-of-faith expectations?

Just some food for thought today.


Babbie, E. (2012). The practice of social research (13th edition). Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth Publishing.

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Derek Griz

I am a Christian, a husband, a father, and a pastor (Immanuel Church). I write from those perspectives. Connect with me on Twitter (@derekgriz).