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The Pygmalion vs. The Golem Effect

There are two kinds of self-fulfilling prophecies. They are broadly defined by wiki as follows:

The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform.

On the other hand is the Golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.
In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The theme was in the main stray of many English literary works during the victorian era. One of which is George Bernard Shaw's play titled "Pygmalion" from which Rosenthal effect gets its name. In Shaw's play, the protagonist, a professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador's garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. (The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the time and a commentary on women's independence.)

When read along with Hawthorne effect, the two behavioral effects above become even more interesting. The Hawthorne effect (commonly referred to as the observer effect) is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior, which is being experimentally measured, in response to the fact that they know that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation. (Of course, without much doubts the key-words and the theme thus far may have already reminded you of the Quantum double-slit experiment, which in itself is a topic for a new Bubble-game. Meanwhile, try here if you must.)

These effects, among others, constitute the broader macro psychology theory of human motivation and personality called "Self-Determination Theory" which concerns with people's inherent growth tendencies and their innate psychological needs, and attempts to study the motivation behind the choices that people make with/out any external influence and interference.

When applied to modern-day study of the economy, it brings us to the ongoing work by MIT professor Dan Ariely in the field of "behavioral economics". The following TED talk captures his ideas rather nicely around prevalent biases in human decision-making process and the term that he coined to describe the behavior: "Predictably Irrational". (My short book-review of the namesake shall follow as a future post.)

[Dan Ariely: Are we in control of our own decisions?]
NB: This blog entry is an example of "Bubble-game Theory"


  1. PS: Two things that you may would want to notice additionally in Dan's TED talk are:
    1) Steve Woz, the Apple co-founder, sitting among the audience, and
    2) Ratan Tata, with his Nano, in the last slide of Dan's presentation (most likely, Dan may have spoken about it with a certain context but the video got edited/truncated subsequently).

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