Golem effect: what it is and how it limits us by expectations

Do you know the Golem effect? Do you know what this has to do with the Pygmalion effect or self-fulfilling prophecy? And with stereotypes? How has this effect been studied?

If you want to find the answer to these questions, and especially if you are passionate about social psychology but also education … do not hesitate to read the article to the end!

    Golem effect: what is it?

    The Golem effect, also called the negative Pygmalion effect, is a phenomenon that can be framed in social psychology. This psychological phenomenon includes the following: putting very low expectations on someone (or on oneself) leads to a worse performance of the person.

    Why is this happening? How is this explained? We will see throughout the article and through a very clear example.

    Before, however, to say that the Golem effect has been studied not only from the point of view of social psychology, but also from the point of view of educational and organizational psychology. A little later we will talk about the first investigations which had as an object of study the Golem effect, of the hand of Léonore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal.

    So in other words, what happens in the Golem effect is that one person can come and condition another and make them believe that they are incapable of doing something, Thus decreasing their self-esteem. This effect, however, often occurs unconsciously. However, the consequences for the person who has been “prejudiced” can be very negative, as it would limit their potential.

    To better understand this phenomenon, let’s think of an example in the field of education.


    If a teacher insists that a student is unable to complete a series of tasks or pass their subject, it is very likely that that student will stagnate and this “negative prophecy” will actually come true.

    Thus, in the Golem effect, teachers’ expectations of their students are based on little information and occur automatically; these expectations lead them to act indirectly and unconsciously often in a manner compatible with this negative outcome; that is, their behavior may in part be conducive to their student’s negative outcome.

    This does not mean that teachers are responsible for academic failure. of some of their students, not by far, but their behavior could influence this result because they already expect failure.

    This is the Golem effect, which can be extrapolated to other fields and situations beyond the academic field, for example when we have very low expectations of someone and these are met (at work, in personal relationships, etc.).

      Its relationship to the Pygmalion effect and self-fulfilling prophecy

      The Golem Effect has a lot to do with two other phenomena in social psychology: Self-fulfilling Prophecy and the Pygmalion Effect.

      The Pygmalion effect is exactly the opposite to the Golem effect, and that is, placing high expectations on someone (in particular, their performance), positively influences their performance, so that they improve. It is for this reason that the Golem effect is also called the negative Pygmalion effect, since it consists of the opposite effect.

      Thus, both in the Pygmalion effect and in the Golem effect, it is argued that our beliefs about others influence their performance. It all has a lot to do with expectations too, and from this we can directly relate two phenomena to the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Self-fulfilling prophecy, on the other hand, it refers to the fact that predicting or believing in something of a psychological nature facilitates its accomplishment, Because we ended up developing behaviors that make things easier. In other words, believing that it ends up being the cause.

      What does the research say?

      As we have already seen through an example in the field of education, the Golem effect occurs in various areas of life, but especially in academia.

      But who started studying the Golem Effect, next to the Pygmalion Effect and Self-fulfilling Prophecy? It was Leonore Jacobson, principal of a school in San Francisco, California, and Robert Rosenthal, a psychologist, who began a series of investigations into these psychological phenomena.

      Through their studies, Jacobson and Rosenthal observed that, unconsciously, many teachers have classified their students; this fact influenced their performance, because, also unconsciously, the teachers facilitated or hindered the implementation of means and behaviors so that their initial “predictions” would eventually come true.

      Thoughts on this phenomenon

      Following the analysis of the Golem effect, the following question may arise: can this effect be slowed down? Although it is difficult, surely yes. How? ‘Or’ What? By the task of detect these previous prejudices in people (For example in teachers) in relation to the capacities or possible performances of other people, or pupils, in the case of teachers.

      In other words, the ideal would be for teachers to believe in all their students and to empower and boost their performance to the same extent (although there will always be students who need more attention).

      We therefore come up against a very complex problem, because in the end we all have expectations, we all have prejudices, we all make predictions based on certain parameters… and our behavior, whether we like it or not, often goes according to these predictions, as if we subconsciously want to “be right” (even though precisely this behavior is so irrational).

        Relationship with stereotypes

        At this point, and after talking about the Golem Effect, its characteristics, and how it differs from Self-fulfilling Prophecy and the Pygmalion Effect … a very important concept in social psychology may have come to mind: the phenomenon of stereotypes.

        Stereotypes are those pre-established ideas or beliefs that we have about a collective or to certain types of people, for example. These are ideas that society and school, family … have transmitted to us and that we have inherited from our mental imagination.

        These ideas are often mistaken beliefs, as they attempt to define a group of people based on traits “typically associated” with them, without any basis. An example of a stereotype would be to think that “all Italians are lovers of Latin”.

        What does the Goleman effect have to do with stereotypes? Basically, in a way stereotypes may play a causal role in this effect (Although not always), based on them, we created ideas in our head about a certain person’s performance.

        On the other hand, as with stereotypes, when the Goleman effect occurs, it is because we are creating an idea, or making a prediction, based on little information and almost automatically.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Babad, EY, Inbar, J. and Rosenthal, R. (1982). Pygmalion, Galatea and the Golem: Investigating biased and impartial teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74 (4), 459–474.
        • Castell, R. (2014). The Pygmalion Effect To what extent does our future determine how others think about us? Final diploma project, Faculty of Economics and Business. Pontifical University.
        • Morales, JF (2007). Social psychology. Published by SA McGraw-Hill / Interamericana de España.
        • Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, LF (1968). Teachers’ expectations for the disadvantaged. Scientific American, 218 (4): 19-23.

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