Is it possible that your mental performance hinges on how you think people perceive you or how you perceive yourself? Professor Robert Rosenthal of Harvard University discovered many years ago how powerfully your perceptions of people can affect their behavior. The same principle applies to your perception of yourself.

Rosenthal and his colleague Lenore Jacobson, in 1968 reported a study of what they called Pygmalion in the Classroom. The title refers to the George Bernard Shaw play about the way in which a linguist shaped the speech of a Cockney flower girl. Rosenthal and Jacobson discovered that perceptions can affect even children’s measured level of intelligence. They divided the children in this study into two groups. He told teachers that the children in the first group had a high IQ and that the children in the second group had a lower IQ. In reality, however, there was no difference in average IQ between the two groups. At the end of the school year, he measured the children’s IQs again. What do you think he discovered? The teachers’ perceptions had actually changed the children’s IQs! Now the children perceived as having the higher IQ by their teachers really did have higher IQs than the ones perceived as lower in IQ. Since then many other experiments have confirmed the same fact. Your perception of people itself often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What causes the Pygmalion Effect? Teachers often give more help and encouragement to certain of their students even though they consciously try to treat all children equally. Sometimes the differences are overt. Certain students may receive more attention in class or more stimulating assignments. Teachers often genuinely feel that it is appropriate to favor certain students in this way. They may think that the most able students require more attention than the others do if they are going to develop their special talents.

Sometimes the differences are subtler. If an “intelligent” student gives a wrong answer, teachers are likely to attribute it to laziness or carelessness. They will therefore encourage the student to work harder or to be more careful. On the other hand, if an “unintelligent” student gives the same wrong answer, teachers are likely to attribute it to lack of ability. They will expect neither extra effort from the students this time nor a better job next time.

Pygmalion Effect research tells us that other people’s perceptions of you influence your performance. How will this effect you? The manner you perceive your yourself can have an even more powerful effect than how other people perceive you.

Let us examine the lives of 2 people, Annie and Joyce. They both perceive themselves as intelligent; nevertheless, their sense of the source of their innate intelligence is quite different. Annie views herself as having been blessed with an unusually fine mind. She sees evidence of this in her ability to master large amounts of information. Her mind sometimes seems to her like a sponge, because it soaks up information so quickly. Joyce views herself as having been born with rather average abilities. She considers herself as unusual only in her ability and determination to surpass her supposed limitations. In other words, Joyce plans to be an overachiever. Even though she may not start out being particularly good at organizing information, she believes that she can learn to become much better. Joyce starts to train her memory with memory techniques that she finds suits her personality. She finds that she can learn faster as she improves her memory.

What happens if you observe Annie and Joyce over the course of several years? At the beginning Annie does well assimilating information, and Joyce has a great deal of difficulty. Look again, however, a few years later. By this point, Annie is still where she started. On the other hand, Joyce has learned so much that she become just as successful as Annie is. Come back after another year and Joyce has clearly surpassed Annie.

Why did Joyce improve so much while Annie did not improve at all? You will find the explanation in their respective images of themselves. In the case of both, having a positive self-image served to create a powerful Pygmalion Effect. Nevertheless, no matter how useful the Pygmalion Effect was in the case of Annie, its significance was greater in the case of Joyce. Why was this? Seeing yourself as competent at learning is more powerful than seeing yourself as competent in other ways.

Joyce believed that she could learn to improve her memory and learning prowess; Annie believed that her skill depended on innate ability. In both cases, their image of their minds affected their performance. The difference between them is that Joyce sense of herself as intelligent relied on confidence in her own ability to learn. This is what gave her an advantage over the long run.

As you have more experience, you will come to understand your mind better and become more skillful at taking advantage of your unique abilities. Belief in your own ability to learn, change and improve your memory is one of the most powerful assets that you, as a user of information, can have.

A recent study by New York University study confirms this principle. Comparing two groups of African American college students, one group says intelligence is a fixed ability that does not change; the other group was encourage to see intelligence as changeable. Otherwise, the members of the two groups were interchangeable. They found that the students who saw intelligence as changeable not only on average earned a higher grade-point average but also reported enjoying the academic process more.

Those occasions usually put the lie to a highly elevated sense of one’s innate ability to organize information. On the other hand, being good at learning is much less rare. For that reason, many of us can be like Joyce. We have the ability to learn as long as we are able to remove all the mind blocks that happen to get in the way.

Author's Bio: 

Martin Mak has developed a new program to help people enhance their memory and learning experience. Find out how with his free and popular ecourse at >>