In preparing for an orientation leader training, I asked the Director of Orientation if anything in particular stood out about her OLs. The part of her description that stuck out to me the most was this line…
“I don’t know what it is about this year, or this group, but they just aren’t into it. They seem low energy, low passion and not as sharp as prior years.”
When I arrived on campus the following week, I quickly saw what the Director was talking about. The OL group just wasn’t playing at the same level of energy that I’ve seen from other schools. However, by the end of the training, the Director came up to me and said,
“I don’t know if you just got them on a good day or what, but this is not the same group of OLs that I’ve been working with for the past five days.”
Her comment made me wonder if the OLs actually were different this year, or could the expectations that the Director was putting on this OL group have caused her to treat them different and in turn they were reacting different than prior years.
Psychologist Bob Rosenthal wondered the same question about rats. His experiment, which I originally heard about on the Invisibilia podcast, was to test if our expectations of rats causes them to perform differently in a maze run.
To test his hypothesis, Bob placed an equal number of identical rats into two different cages and labeled one cage “Extremely Smart Rats” and the other cage as “Extremely Dumb Rats.” Bob then invited experimenters to come in and pick rats from each cage and run them through a maze. The results were amazing.
The “smart” rats consistently ran the maze two times as fast as the dumb rats.
What?!?! How could that be? The rats were identical prior to the experiment. The seemingly only difference was the label placed above the rat cage. So could the experimenters’ thoughts on the rats impact their maze run? Well, yes and no.
The experimenters’ thoughts of “dumb rats” verses “smart rats” alone didn’t have an impact, but their thoughts did impact how they interacted with each group of rats. The interaction the experimenters had with the “dumb rats” verses the “smart rats” caused the rats to behave differently in the maze. As studied by Bob, the interactions were subtle, but made all the difference.
Turns out the same is true when the interaction is between humans. The Pygmalion Effect states that higher expectations lead to an increase in performance and The Golem Effect states that lower expectations lead to a decrease in performance. In a large study between teachers and students in a classroom, the results found that “if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance was enhanced.”
So what type of campus leaders do you have this year? How have you been labeling them and how has that label caused you to interact with this group different than other groups? Maybe the students are only mirroring the expectations we place upon them, and if we change our expectations about the students, their behavior will change. We only see what we expect to see.