The Golem Effect

By Ayesh Perera, published March 21, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Definition

  • The Golem effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein lower expectations upon people by either themselves or their supervisors result in poorer performance (Babad, Inbar & Rosenthal, 1982).
  • This is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy which has been observed in a variety of settings including organizational and educational environments. This phenomenon is named after the golem, an anthropomorphic clay creature in Jewish mythology, supposedly animated by Rabbi Loew of Prague.
  • Legend holds that, originally devised to safeguard Jews in Prague, the golem grew increasingly corrupt and spiraled out of control, so it had to be demolished.
  • In 1982, Babad, Rosenthal and Inbar borrowed the term from Jewish folklore in presenting their observations of the adverse ramifications of self-fulfilling prophecies.

What the Research Says

Research conducted by Babad, Rosenthal and Inbar in 1982, which involved investigations of unbiased and biased teachers, analyzed the effects of differential expectancy resulting from their susceptibility to biasing data (Babad, Inbar & Rosenthal, 1982).

The researchers also assessed the difference between positive and negative effects of teacher expectations. The experiment identified unbiased and biased teachers based on their proneness to biasing data in grading drawings supposedly made by low or high-status pupils.

The teachers who were high-bias, negatively treated the students they saw as possessing low potential while treating the others more favorably.

Strong and consistent manifestations of the Golem effect were observed. The outcomes revealed that the biased teachers’ negative expectations had not only shaped their treatment of the students, but also adversely impacted the students’ performance of the designed tasks. 

Implications for Real Life

The research discoveries concerning the Golem effect unveil to us the far-reaching consequences of the Golem effect. These may readily manifest in everyday interactions between parents and children, teachers and students, and employers and employees in various settings (InnerDrive, 2022):

In Education

Teachers may impact students' performance in manifold ways. For instance, they may be nicer toward students upon whom they may have placed high expectations while paying less attention to those they have perceived as possessing less potential.

Such teachers may also treat these student populations vastly differently in providing constructive feedback and opportunities for growth, and bestowing praise (which could enhance the students’ self-esteem).

While the students over whom are placed with high expectations may be imbued with more confidence, the students who experience negative expectations may find themselves in a vicious cycle wherein low expectations engender lower levels of accomplishment, which, in turn, enhance such adverse expectations.

At Work

Employers often have varying levels of expectations for their employees based on their perceived skills, motivation and potential.

Consequently, those in supervisory roles may be inclined to dismiss ideas stemming from, micro-manage tasks assigned to, and lower the goals set for individuals for whom their expectations are not as high.

Such treatment may in fact lead to employees engaging in conduct conforming to low managerial expectations. This could create a cycle of low productivity conducive neither to the future of the organization nor to the wellbeing of the employees.

In Sports

Finally, the Golem effect in sports cannot escape notice. Coaches, often, must make crucial decisions based on their measurement of the players’ talents, capacities and potentials in choosing specific individuals for specific roles.

However, this can also readily result in diverse external displays of expectations on a coach’s part, over different individuals in a team (Mahoney, 2011). These expectations may in turn, significantly impact the way various members of the team perform.

Players from whom little accomplishment is anticipated might perform to conform to the stereotypes imposed upon them. Such outcomes, evidently, would adversely affect their athletic careers. 

Overcoming the Golem Effect

 As serious as the Golem effect is, we are not without means to mitigate and overcome it. A two-step approach could be utilized for this purpose:

Cultivate Awareness

Individuals in supervisory roles should become aware of their capacity to shape the conduct of their subordinates. Parents, teachers, coaches and employers should realize that their interactions with those under their authority may readily convey their expectations for such individuals.

Developing strategies to guard against biases in such expectations is an essential step toward mitigating the Golem effect.

On the other hand, children, students, athletes and employees should develop their awareness of how the expectations of those above them might be shaping their behavior.

This would enlighten their understanding of how others’ low expectations could hinder their capacity for accomplishment, and immensely aid them in cultivating resilience.

Change Expectations

Those occupying positions of authority can replace negative expectations with positive ones.

Instead of expecting their subordinates to constantly fail, supervisors can affirm their subordinates’ latent capabilities and set high standards of excellence for them, thereby aiding the improvement of their performance.

Likewise, those under authority may set higher expectations for themselves, and then strive to attain such standards, thereby raising their own performance.

About the Author

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)
Perera, A. (2022, March 21). The Golem Effect. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/golem-effect.html

APA Style References

Babad, E. Y., Inbar, J., & Rosenthal, R. (1982). Pygmalion, Galatea, and the Golem: Investigations of biased and unbiased teachers. Journal of educational psychology, 74(4), 459.

Mahoney, R. (2011). "Chris Bosh and the self-fulfilling prophecy". The New York Times.