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How expectations transform reality

Posted in the following categories: Personal Development, Problem Solving

The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.

It’s a fancy test designed by a fancy institution that helps schools determine which students have a higher academic potential.

In the 1960s, a Harvard psychologist named Robert Rosenthal administered this test to students at a California public elementary school.

The test results came back, and Rosenthal then gave the teachers the names of the students who had excelled on the test.

The teachers were told that these students were extraordinary. They had “unusual potential for intellectual growth.” (The test results weren’t shared with the students).

A year after the test, the high-potential students were thriving—exactly as the test results predicted. In the first grade, their IQ increased by 27 points (compared to 12 points for the other students) and in the second grade, their IQ went up by 17 points (compared to 7).

Here’s the twist: There’s no such thing as “The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.” It’s fake.

The “high potential” students were selected at random by Rosenthal.

It was the teachers’ expectation of the students’ potential—not any innate talent of the students themselves—that spurred their superior performance.

All it took was a simple change in expectations—from “This is an average kid who will do average things” to “This is an extraordinary student destined for greatness.”

That change in expectations also changed teacher behavior. As Rosenthal later found, teachers were kinder to the students identified as high potential, smiling and nodding at them more frequently. The teachers also called on those students more often and were more likely to provide feedback when the students made a mistake.

The study—which I first came across in the excellent book The Culture Code—has implications far beyond the classroom.

Employers who expect their employees to perform well—and demonstrate that expectation with positive reinforcement and constructive feedback—are more likely to end up with successful team members.

Parents who have high—but achievable—expectations of their children are more likely to raise kids who perform better academically and socially.

Doctors who believe patients will respond well to treatment—and demonstrate that expectation through their bedside manner—may influence the patient’s compliance with a treatment program and ultimately their recovery.

The same applies to you.

If you have low expectations of yourself, you’ll block your own wisdom and close doors before life has the opportunity to open them. Your expectations will then become self-fulfilling.

You can’t always get what you want, as the Rolling Stones remind us, but by expanding your expectations, you’ll also expand the boundaries of possibility.

The greatest gift you can give someone—including yourself—is a belief in their potential.

P.S. I’m in Los Angeles for the next 10 days, and (if I find the time) I might host a small, curated get-together for my readers. If you’re in the LA area, please fill out this form to express your interest.

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