Expectations create our world

Grandfather Mountain

*Reality is a subjective experience. Two people looking up at the clouds will see different patterns in the sky.  One might see a flower, while the other sees a giraffe. Subjective is what  we feel, wish for or fear. It is our own personal point of view. Objective is what is actually there, the plain truth.

Our expectations, beliefs, and even the thoughts we use to understand our world determine what we experience.  We may regard science as the ultimate in human objectivity.  It is a questionable assumption.  Science is governed by the same expectancy principle, because science is an activity of human beings.  

We spend much of our lives interacting with people. How do people respond to you?  Do you find them to be kind and helpful, or do they stand in your way?  Do they please you or annoy you?  The truth of the matter is that people tend to mirror back to you your own expectations.  What you expect from people tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider the case of psychologists.  They study people using scientific methods and are highly trained in carrying out experiments in strictly controlled situations.  However, psychologists have found that their experiments also tend to create the very reality their research is supposed to objectively observe and measure.  In other words, they get the result that they think they will.

This disturbing fact is sometimes called the “Rosenthal Effect,” named after the Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who first discovered it.

The experimental subjects in Rosenthal’s original research weren’t the usual ones. He studied research psychologists while they performed their own experiments.  He would recruit ten researchers to each perform a certain experiment that he had designed.  He would ask them. “Find out if it is really true that . . .” and then he would tell them his hypotheses.  However, he didn’t tell them all the same thing.  He told half the researchers that his theory was one way, while he told the others that his idea was the opposite. Then he sent them to work in the laboratory and awaited their results.  For the most part, the researchers returned with results that confirmed what they thought to be the hypothesis.

Rosenthal and others have confirmed this phenomenon in hundreds of experiments with both people and animals.  The results have been the same.  Somehow the researchers unintentionally affected the people they were studying to produce the results they were expecting.  You can imagine how upsetting the Rosenthal effect has been to the science of psychology.  Many experiments have been conducted to find out the source of this problem.

In one research project, for example, involving an experiment comparing “smart” with “less intelligent” mice, the observer saw the experimenters handle more often the mice they believed to be smarter, giving them, literally, “more strokes.”  On the other hand, the experimenters talked more to the mice they believed to be less intelligent. Is it possible that handling mice makes them do better at their tasks, while talking to them makes them do less well?  When you try to think of an answer to this question, keep in mind that the Rosenthal effect has also occurred when experimenters were studying microscopic worms!

Experiments attempting to control the Rosenthal effect have discovered how pervasive it can be.  It seems almost impossible to prevent.  Even when the experimenters conduct their experiments through remote control the effect is evident.

If well-trained psychologists tend to confirm their expectations in their scientifically controlled experiments with people, you may suspect that it is quite likely that in our own interactions with people we also tend to confirm our expectations.

The Rosenthal effect demonstrates that our perceptions and expectations about how people are going to behave around us are indeed self-fulfilling.

A positive mindset is important.  Think the best about people and you will likely see the best in them.  This goes for ourselves too.  If we have a positive mindset we are more likely to achieve our goals, get along with others, feel good about ourselves and be happy.

Expectancy theory in the workplace is easy to implement and most importantly it works

*This post is condensed from the Edgar Cayce book on Mysteries of the Mind.

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