Pygmalion in the Classroom

Labeling Theory Tested: Pygmalion in the Classroom

Can a label, such as "gifted," have a measureable effect on a person's behavior even when the label is applied randomly? Can it even change what is often assumed to be an inborn characteristic such as intelligence?

In what has become a classic in the sociology of education, Robert Rosenthal and Leonore Jacobson gave an intelligence test to all of the students at an elementary school at the beginning of the school year. They then selected 20 percent of the students at random - without any regard to their intelligence test results - and told the teachers that these students could be expected to "bloom" or "spurt" in their academics that year. At the end of the year, they came back and re-tested all the students.

Those labeled as "bloomers" gained an average of 12 IQ points compared to a gain of 8 points for the unlabeled group.

The effects were more startling among the youngest students.


Labeling matters, and the younger the person getting the label is, the more it matters.


Rosenthal, R., and Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the Classroom. New York: Rinehart and Winston.
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