The Pygmalion Effect


Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, one of the world’s leading providers of emotional intelligence tests and training, recently published a fascinating article on LinkedIn, Powerful Psychological Forces That Make Good People Do Bad Things.

In the article, he references the work of Dr. Muel Kaptein, Professor of Business Ethics and Integrity Management at the Rotterdam School of Management, who has studied bad behavior for decades. A study Dr. Kaptein published sheds considerable light on what motivates good people to do bad things. The article includes 14 of Dr. Kaptein’s most compelling findings into how the mind tricks good people into losing their moral compass and going astray.

I am not going to try and summarize the article, it is already in a summary format, and I highly recommend reading it.

However, I would like to focus on just one of the findings of Dr. Kaptein’s work, one which he refers to as the Pygmalion effect. Here is what the article had to say about this effect:

The Pygmalion effect refers to the tendency people have to act the way that other people treat them. For example, if employees are treated like they’re upright members of a team, they’re more likely to act accordingly. Alternately, if they’re treated with suspicion, they’re more likely to act in a way that justifies that perception.

I am sure that I was taught about the Pygmalion effect somewhere along the line, but I must admit that if someone were to ask me what it meant, I would have had no response. It almost seems like a version of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do onto you.”

Since the word “Pygmalion” is so unusual in and of itself, I decided to go out to Wikipedia and learn some more about it. Here is what it had to say:

The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. The effect is named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance; both effects are forms of self-fulfilling prophecy. By the Pygmalion effect, people internalize their positive labels, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. The idea behind the Pygmalion effect is that increasing the leader’s expectation of the follower’s performance will result in better follower performance. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regard to education and social class.

It appears that this effect has been studied quite a bit, not only in the workplace but in the classroom as well, so I tried to think of ways that this effect has possibly played out in my classroom over the years.

I think many people who may observe my teaching approach and philosophy may consider it as being too lenient or easygoing, but I would argue that what I am trying to do is create an atmosphere of trust.

For example, when a student tells me that he is going to miss a test because there was a death in his family, I take him at his word, and do not ask him to bring in a copy of the obituary. This approach seems consistent with the idea behind the Pygmalion effect, since it seems that by treating students as honest students, they will act accordingly.

Another example deals with the way I administer my tests. I have no problem leaving the classroom during a test for a few minutes. Again, this is a direct result of my desire to have built an culture of trust between myself and the students, and so by the time the first test comes around, I feel comfortable doing so. (It also helps that I teach in a classroom that has a full glass wall on one side and is right next to a heavily trafficked area.) However, I should point out that if I do happen to see someone acting suspiciously during a test, I do not hesitate to let that person know, and to keep a closer eye on that individual for the remainder of the test.

I also tell my students early on that I know how difficult it is to get into Villanova, and that I am aware that all of them had outstanding academic records in high school and strong SAT scores. I then tell them that I don’t expect things to change dramatically once they begin college, and as a result I fully expect such outstanding performances to continue in college. Again, this seems consistent with the Pygmalion effect.

But I will also admit that there is room for improvement, particularly with respect to how I should set expectations, and how I communicate such expectations to my students.

Overall though, I am excited by the prospect of being able to use such a high-brow term as the “Pygmalion effect” when someone asks me about my teaching philosophy.

I just hope that there isn’t some competing theory out there that completely discredits it, but if there is, when cognitive dissonance kicks in (another one of the 14 traits that Dr. Kaptein mentions in his research), I’ll just let my confirmation bias solve the problem for me.

The Power of 60 Seconds


Today, the Villanova School of Business had its second annual “flash service event”.

“60 Seconds of Service” gave students, staff, and faculty the opportunity to individually bag a lunch for a homeless person and personalize the lunch with an inspirational note. In less than 90 minutes, over 500 lunches were bagged, boxed and on their way to Cathedral Pantry at the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Camden.

This was a simple yet impactful way to serve and bring some attention to those who are often overlooked. Set up in an assembly line fashion, students would pick up a bag, then start loading it with one of each item available, such as an apple, a milk, and an energy bar. Walking through the line took less than 30 seconds, and if the students wanted to, they could personalize the lunch by creating a personal, handwritten note to include with the lunch.

Here’s a video from last year’s event:

Since my classroom was right next to where this activity was taking place, I used the first three minutes of class to have the students go and make a lunch, if they wanted to. As I expected, I think every student volunteered to do so.

When one of my students came back, I asked him if he felt better from his quick bout of service, and he responded that he usually doesn’t do things like that, but that he did feel a sense of having done something important.

So it doesn’t take much to make a difference, just a willingness to do something.

So a big thanks to the committee that organized this event and for all those who volunteered; for me, it’s one of the highlights of the year.

Go Nova!

An Homage to Villanova Men’s Basketball


The Villanova Men’s Basketball team has made it to the Final Four, and everyone on and around campus is quite excited, including the local media.

There have been several great human interest type stories in the past few days about the team, and I thought I would just curate all of those stories here.


Jensen: A mother’s sacrifice benefits Villanova

Felicia Jenkins, mother of junior Kris Jenkins, made the single toughest decision of her life, which put Jenkins on a different path that now includes a second family, all listed in the personal section for Kris in Villanova’s media guide: “Parents are Felicia Jenkins and Kelvin Jenkins. Guardians are Nate and Melody Britt. Siblings include Kaiya and Kelci Jenkins along with Nate Britt Jr. and Natalya Britt.”

Father Rob Hagan is Wildcats’ ‘rock’

These days, he’s universally known around his alma mater as Father Rob. And as coach Jay Wright might be the first to tell you, he’s as essential to everything that goes on with the basketball program as Jay Wright. OK, almost. But you get the point. His official title is associate athletic director. His most visible role is chaplain for the men’s hoops and football teams. You will see him sitting at the end of the bench this weekend in Houston, cheering on his guys during pregame and timeouts when they play Oklahoma in one of the national semifinals. In short, he’s there for whoever needs him, for whatever the need.

Close Hometowns Mean Close Ties at Villanova

Villanova, one of the prominent Philadelphia-area college basketball teams collectively known as the Big 5, has a roster composed almost exclusively of players from the Mid-Atlantic: Washington and its suburbs, Philadelphia and its suburbs, and New York City and its suburbs. The only exception, hailing from the suburbs of Chicago, is the freshman guard Jalen Brunson, but even he is not an outlier. Brunson — whose father played at another Big 5 school, Temple — spent part of his youth living in New Jersey. Villanova’s roster, then, is something of a throwback.

Arcidiacono: Florida’s loss, ‘Nova’s gain

It’s almost assumed that Ryan Arcidiacono committed to Villanova when he was still in grade school. The reality is, the player who has come to represent everything coach Jay Wright wants his basketball program to be almost didn’t commit at all.  In October 2010, just before his junior season at Neshaminy High, the 6-3 guard thought he was headed to Florida. A visit to Gainesville can have that kind of impact on a teenager’s thought process, even if both his parents happen to be Villanova grads.

Commentary: Villanova’s inspiring head coach

Coach Jay Wright demanded that his kids perform as well off the court – both in the classroom and in demonstrating their character – as they did on the court in passing and shooting. That’s not easy. College kids can be limitlessly malleable and vulnerable, wanderers at times in need of an anchor – a role model – to instill in them the importance, indeed, the priority of academics, responsibility, and character, qualities that succor accountable adult lives. If that anchor is a coach, so be it. In the long-range vision of what’s important for the overwhelming majority of student-athletes, winning in the sports world on the court won’t mean as much as winning in the real world beyond the court. To his credit, Wright has used both a hammer and a hug to minister and mentor.

Final Four matches Oklahoma star Buddy Hield and starless Villanova

The Villanova Wildcats have been all about five, a group full of fairly anonymous players who have finally shed the underachiever label and led the program to its first Final Four trip since 2009. This is a true team. One moment, Josh Hart looks like the Wildcats’ best player. On the next possession, it’s Ryan Arcidiacono. Shoot, some announcers can’t correctly pronounce Arcidiacono –- and many writers can’t spell it.

Jay Wright’s Tailor

Villanova coach Jay Wright has become a bit of a style icon. He’ll have on a perfectly tailored suit for the Wildcats’ Final Four match-up against the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.It’s all thanks to Gabriele D’Annunzio, a master tailor from Newtown Square.

Jay Wright can’t spell Ryan Arcidiacono’s last name

And last, but not least, here is a post I wrote last year about Jay Wright.

… but the thing I’ll always remember about Jay, and the reason why I have so much respect for Jay, was a little incident that I was likely the only person to witness. read more

Will the Real You Please Stand Up?

stand out duck

This is the 53rd in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

Submit to pressure from peers and you move down to their level.
Speak up for your own beliefs and you invite them up to your level.
If you move with the crowd, you’ll get no further than the crowd.
When 40 million people believe in a dumb idea, it’s still a dumb idea.
Simply swimming with the tide leaves you nowhere.
So if you believe in something that’s good, honest, and bright – stand up for it.
Maybe your peers will get smart and drift your way.

This ad is almost Seth Godin-like in that it encourages people to pursue what they were meant to do, and to not listen to the naysayers, to the crowd.

It also reminds me of Jim Rohn’s comment that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.

So it seems that if you combine these ideas, the best approach if you want to do something meaningful is to be part of a group that stands out from the crowd. There’s power in groups, but not if your group is just like every other group that’s out there.

It is certainly much easier today to both find “your” group, and to stand out from the crowd.

Sites like Facebook and enable users to find people of like interests and beliefs. and tools like Twitter and WordPress allow anyone to let their voice be heard.

I’ve certainly found myself more willing to express my views once I started blogging. I’ve written posts where I’ve stated my views on issues such the death penalty, gun control, violencetaxes, nutrition, animal rights, the environment, and education. Writing those posts forced me to think more deeply about my views, and sharing my views is a way for people to get to know me and my beliefs, and for me to get to know people who may hold similar beliefs. (I’m still trying to find a Presidential candidate who has the same set of beliefs as me, so far, no one matches 100%).

I also find blogging a far easier way to express my views as compared to trying to do so in a conversation.

However, there is the flip side to how easy the Internet has made it for people to express and share their views with the world. All one needs to do is to take a look at this year’s presidential campaigns, the spread of terrorism, and Pewdiepie.

So I’d encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities to stand out from the crowd, to find like-minded individuals, and to share your thoughts with the world.

Who knows, one of you may be a juggling, blogging, vegan accounting professor who is anti-gun, anti-death penalty, pro animal rights, pro public education, pro environment, and thinks Springsteen is the greatest musician of all time.

If you’re out there, let me know; we can start our own club.

*photo courtesy of the Hi-Note


Man’s Inhumanity to Man


A suicide bomber killed at least 65 people, mostly women and children, at a park in Lahore today (Easter Sunday) in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction which said it had targeted Christians.

There’s so much wrong in that one sentence – children, a park, Easter Sunday, Christians.

The bombing is further proof of what Robert Burns said over 200 years ago in his poem, Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge

Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Today’s blast makes millions mourn, and to borrow a word from the gun control movement,


*the photo above is of a more peaceful time at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore

How Much Is a Life Worth?


According to the Food and Drug Administration, the value of a statistical life (VSL) was $9.3 million in 2015.

Assigning a dollar value to a human life may seem a bit callous, but it is a necessity.

Government agencies are required to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for every regulation expected to cost $100 million or more in a year. The VSL is part of the benefits side of the equation.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story today about the process that is used by government agencies to come up with the VSL.

The estimates are generated from information gleaned from surveys and market data that reveal the choices people make in different risky situations.

“The beauty of the methodology is that it uses values people have expressed through the market rather than a government office arbitrarily making up a number,” according to W.Kip Viscusi, an economist at Vanderbilt University. “It uses the value people themselves think risks are worth.”

Economists analyze what people spend, for example on cars with improved safety features, as well as what they accept, such as hazard pay for more dangerous jobs. With this information, the economists figure out how much an individual is willing to pay to reduce a risk and then multiply the amount over the population exposed to the risk.

The idea of using consumer responses to everyday risks to calculate the value of a statistical life was developed in 1968 by an economist named Thomas Schelling. His objective wasn’t to tackle the worth of life. It was to value the postponement of death.

It would be interesting to see the details of what goes into the VSL, and what types of risks they include.

Does the USDA consider the premium people are willing to pay for organic food as a measure of risk reduction?

Does the FDA look at how much people are willing to pay to enroll in a smoking cessation program as a way to value the postponement of death?

Does the FCC look at how much time people spend wasting their time reading this blog as the equivalent of hazard pay?

So while it is certainly true that you can’t measure the psychic value of someone’s life, I see no problem with these statistical approaches to cost-benefit analysis.

And while we’re at it, if we truly value a life, let’s get rid of the death penalty.

Sweet Baby James

james baby 1982

Our oldest son, James, is home from Raleigh for the Easter weekend, and as always, it’s great to have him around.

As he started saying his good nights before retiring for bed, I had a flashback to the day my wife and I brought him home from the hospital, over 33 years ago.

While most of that first day is a blur, we do remember while getting him ready for bed his first night at home, that we wanted to play a certain song to celebrate the moment.

So we flipped through our record albums, found the one we wanted, and gently placed the needle on the song we wanted to listen to.

So, goodnight you moon light ladies, rock-a-bye sweet baby James.
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose,
won’t you let me go down in my dreams?

And rock-a-bye sweet baby James.

It is a moment forever etched in our minds…

Who Said Allowing Comments on a Blog Is Risky?


I know some bloggers are concerned about allowing readers to post comments, since you never know what a reader might say.

But it’s never concerned me (perhaps because I get so few comments). In fact, many of the comments I receive make my day, especially when they are like this one I just received:

you are in reality a excellent webmaster. The site loading velocity is amazing. It seems that you are doing any distinctive trick. Furthermore, The contents are masterwork. you’ve done a magnificent job on this topic!

I must admit that I have spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking my site so that the loading velocity can be “amazing”. The commenter is correct in that I am doing a distinctive trick. I may actually patent my technique and try to license it to Google.

So I have no intentions of turning off comments, and I encourage my readers to continue sending me such comments.

In the meantime, before I try to patent my site velocity loading technique, could somebody first explain to me what the heck it means?

Go Nova!


Forget about Giving College Students Laptops or iPads, How about a Dog?


Finals week at college can be a stressful time for students.

And it seems like the stress levels have increased over the years.

Back in my college days, I vaguely recall feeling some stress during finals week, but I don’t recall the college offering any way to relieve that stress.

Things are quite different today.

For example, here’s a description of the activities that Villanova offered to its students on Reading Day, the day before finals begin and a day when there are no scheduled classes:

Take a break from studying and enjoy a variety of stress-relieving activities. Each hour will feature a different activity, including coloring books for grown-ups, making your own stress balls, board games and puzzles, a combined yoga mindfulness session, and, of course, plenty of snacks and drinks. Comfort Caring Canines will also be here with therapy dogs from 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 

That’s right, dogs are brought on to campus to interact with the students. I’ve known a few students who have participated in this, and they have all said how much they loved it.

Something like this wasn’t even on the radar screen when I was in college.

But I wondered if having these dogs visit campus really provides any benefits to the students, except as a way to avoid studying for a few minutes.

Well the good old Wall Street Journal just had a story about this in yesterday’s paper with the clever title, “Canines Calm College Exam-Crammers“.

The story shared the results of a study published online in the journal Anthrozoös. The study, conducted at the Virginia Commonwealth University, involved 57 students in their late teens. About half were assigned to spend 15 minutes with 10 dogs from the university’s dog-therapy program, followed by a 15-minute control activity that involved placing symbols of the people, institutions and major stresses in their lives in a large paper circle. The remaining students performed the control activity first, followed by the dog visits.

The results indicated that the students felt significantly less anxious after a brief visit with trained therapy dogs during the week before final exams. Perceived stress was self-reported on a scale from zero (none) to nine (severe). Stress scores in both groups averaged from seven to eight before the experiments. On average, scores decreased by three points among students who visited with the therapy dogs, either before or after the control activity. The order of the dog encounters did not make a difference in the students’ perceived stress, the study found.

So there’s the proof, spending just a few minutes with a dog reduces stress. The study did offer one caveat – it isn’t known how long students’ perception of reduced stress after the dog sessions lasted.

If the stress reduction associated with interacting with a dog only lasts for a very short time period, then I think I have a solution. Upon admission to college, every student is given a dog that is theirs to keep and care for over the next four years. They can bring the dogs with them everywhere they go, from the dining halls, to the gym, to class.

I think it would be fun to teach a class of 30 students and 30 dogs.

It would also be fun to keep track of how many puppies are born during the year, to see how many dogs get lost over the course of a year, and to visit campus at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and watch students out walking their dogs (I think most students currently have no idea what the campus looks like at 7:30 on a Sunday morning).

It would also be fun to find out if having a dog actually INCREASES the stress level of students, because of all the responsibility that comes with owning a dog.

If so, we can find another home for the dogs. Student stress levels would then be reduced, without the need for dogs, and we’re back to what college was like in the 70s.

Which was, to put it simply, awesome…