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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 126-127

The power of expectations: Undermining the role of pygmalion effect in mentoring

Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry, India

Date of Submission17-Sep-2018
Date of Decision22-Sep-2018
Date of Acceptance30-Oct-2018
Date of Web Publication23-May-2019

Correspondence Address:
V Dinesh Kumar
Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cjhr.cjhr_134_18

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How to cite this article:
Kumar V D. The power of expectations: Undermining the role of pygmalion effect in mentoring. CHRISMED J Health Res 2019;6:126-7

How to cite this URL:
Kumar V D. The power of expectations: Undermining the role of pygmalion effect in mentoring. CHRISMED J Health Res [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 28];6:126-7. Available from: https://www.cjhr.org/text.asp?2019/6/2/126/258971


Expectations appear to be a critical factor when considering the socialization of newly joined students/faculty into workgroups. “Self-fulfilling prophecy” theory states that it is the level of assumptions or expectations placed by the leader or mentor, which determines the kind of outcomes of subordinates/mentees.[1] For example, consider a mentor who mistrusts the protégées and not delegating substantial tasks and a mentor who trusts his protégées and gives responsibilities. The first case is a typical example of Golem effect, which enunciates that low expectations of leaders impair the performances of subordinates[2] and it is evident among underperforming mentoring dyads. The second case is an example of Pygmalion effect, which is usually observed in high-performing teams. Even though the Pygmalion effect was originally documented in classroom setting, it can be applied to the theoretical models of mentoring in academic medicine.

Chen[3] found that higher expectations entrusted by a leader on newcomers would presumably prune the sense of strong productivity and this trait could be observed in many high-performing units. Another qualitative study by Rabatin et al.[4] enunciated that a mentoring model centered on trust and setting of higher benchmarks was associated with better professional growth and career accomplishments. Based on Pygmalion effect, we could classify the mentors into two types: “positive Pygmalion,” who could communicate higher expectations to mentees, and “negative Pygmalion,” who intentionally or unintentionally undermine the self-confidence and self-efficacy of the mentees and scarcely communicate about the expectations.

I wish to stress that the Pygmalion effect need not work out at all stages of mentoring. Novice mentees are often more malleable and have fewer notions about their abilities. As they ripen in the medical school, their “self-image” gets hardened and determined by the “reality” of past performances. Unless the mentee has good track records, communicating higher expectations might turn out to be cynical. Similarly, a mediocre student could perceive the conveyed expectations as disillusions and fail to turn back to the mentor.[5] In those scenarios, the “positive Pygmalion” mentors should switch their approach and develop a congruent action plan.

How to incorporate Pygmalion traits in the traditional mentoring program? Rosenthal[6] had proposed a four-factor model for mediating the links between the effects of expectations and outcome behaviors. Mentors should afford a positive climate, in which they can convey their warmth and emotional ambiance. Second, they should keep on strengthening the inputs, by giving well-directed assignments of incremental toughness to high-expectation mentees. At the same time, the assignments should be at a “stretchable” level, rather than being intangible. Third, they should create opportunities to hoist the output of the assignments in available settings. Finally, they should give more positive reinforcement to high-expectation mentees. It is also important to mitigate the effect of criticism on these high-aptitude personnel from stagnant peer population.

Mentors should also perceive the darker side of Pygmalion effect. If the potential of “high-expectation mentees” is challenged owing to practical issues, they are vulnerable to get deteriorated in terms of satisfaction and commitment. Mentors should also be diligent enough to avoid “perceptual biases” between students, which is an undesirable side effect of Pygmalion effect.

To conclude, Pygmalion effect has a significant role in mentoring at all levels by virtue of being responsible for enhanced performance and productivity standards. It creates an aura of “imaginative epistemology” whereby mentors stimulate mentees to perceive their “possible selves” via high expectations. This article tries to emphasize the mechanisms and normative effects of expectations. Gaining awareness regarding this invisible phenomenon would be of immense help in galvanizing effective mentoring programs.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Livingston JS. Pygmalion in management. Harv Bus Rev 1969;47:81-9.  Back to cited text no. 1
Davidson OB, Eden D. Remedial self-fulfilling prophecy: Two field experiments to prevent Golem effects among disadvantaged women. J Appl Psychol 2000;85:386-98.  Back to cited text no. 2
Chen G. Newcomer adaptation in teams: Multilevel antecedents and outcomes. Acad Manage J 2005;48:101-16.  Back to cited text no. 3
Rabatin JS, Lipkin M Jr., Rubin AS, Schachter A, Nathan M, Kalet A. Ayear of mentoring in academic medicine: Case report and qualitative analysis of fifteen hours of meetings between a junior and senior faculty member. J Gen Intern Med 2004;19:569-73.  Back to cited text no. 4
Sambunjak D. Understanding wider environmental influences on mentoring: Towards an ecological model of mentoring in academic medicine. Acta Med Acad 2015;44:47-57.  Back to cited text no. 5
Rosenthal R. The mediation of Pygmalion effects: A four-factor “theory.”PN G J Educ 1973;9:1-12.  Back to cited text no. 6

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