Venetian mirrors once captivated the world with their exquisite craftsmanship and unique glow. For centuries, Venice, and the nearby island of Murano, stood as the preeminent centres of glass production. While Venetian artisans perfected the art of creating clear plate glass, the unique qualities infused into their mirrors truly set their work apart. By incorporating carefully balanced proportions of gold and bronze into the amalgam, the Venetians achieved radiant reflections that cast a warm and alluring aura on the eye of the beholder.
Understanding the historical significance of Venetian mirrors allows us to draw a compelling insight into the profound impact of our internal thoughts on external realities. This week’s Thursday Thought explores the intriguing relationship between Venetian mirrors and two contrasting psychological phenomena, the Pygmalion and Golem effects. By examining these effects, we can gain valuable insights into the power of our beliefs and the responsibility we bear in shaping the perceptions and potentials of those around us.
The Pygmalion Effect
The Pygmalion effect, also known as the Rosenthal effect, was named after a famous psychological experiment called “Pygmalion in the Classroom”. In their study, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson revealed that when teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from certain children, the performance of those children improved. Teachers were informed that certain students showed exceptional potential for intellectual growth. Unbeknownst to the teachers, these students were randomly selected, and their potential was not based on any objective assessment. Nevertheless, the teachers treated these students differently, offering the “better students” more attention, encouragement, and challenging assignments. Remarkably, by the end of the study, these students showed significantly higher intellectual gains than their “less able” peers. The study highlighted how the teachers’ expectations, even when based on fictional information, had a tangible impact on students’ self-belief and performance.
Many of us have had people who offered encouragement at delicate life stages. While I was an average athlete, certain people encouraged me by praising my commitment and discipline. Their words boosted my confidence and kept me going when there were no clear signs of success. I was reminded of this recently when watching an interview with a rugby player who recounted a similar story. Someone once told him he was particularly flexible for such a big guy. With that thought implanted, he observed validation in his training. He “noticed” his flexibility because it became salient. Buoyed by manifestation, he worked on his flexibility while most players worked on strength. By training both strength and flexibility, he gained a competitive advantage.
These examples, coupled with the metaphor of the Venetian mirrors, can be seen as a representation of the Pygmalion effect. In this metaphorical context, adding gold to the amalgam represents imbuing someone with positive affirmations, encouragement, and belief in their potential.
Of course, it’s important to note that the opposite is also true. Our words can both plant seeds or weeds in the minds of others. The latter can destroy their self-image and confidence, a phenomenon known as the “Golem effect.”
The “Golem Effect”
The “Golem effect” refers to the negative impact of low expectations or negative beliefs on a person’s behaviour and self-perception. The Golem effect draws its inspiration from the Jewish folklore figure, the Golem, a creature made of clay that is brought to life and portrayed as clumsy, unintelligent, and subservient.
The Golem effect manifests when individuals are persistently perceived or treated as incompetent, unintelligent, or incapable. As a result, they internalize these negative expectations, causing their performance, motivation, and self-confidence to decline. This phenomenon creates a vicious cycle where the person’s genuine abilities and potential become constrained by the negative beliefs placed upon them.
In contrast to gilding the internal mirror of others, the Golem effect metaphor is when toxic thoughts are planted in the minds of others, perpetuating negative thoughts and low expectations.
Parents, mentors, partners, leaders, and teachers all have a responsibility to gild the internal reflections of others. By infusing positivity in the minds of those around us, their worldview improves. When their worldviews improve, it improves the world for all of us. It can take a daily reminder to pass a positive comment and tell someone, “You look great”, “That sweater is nice”, “Your skin looks so healthy”, “You look radiant”, or thank someone for a job well done. We can do this with our kids, “See, your hard work pays off”, “You are very observant”, “You have a great gift there, keep working on it”. Finally, we must also remember to be kind to ourselves; we are often our biggest critics when we should be our biggest fans. When your internal dialogue is positive, your external reality reflects your thoughts.
THANKS FOR READING
For more on Overcoming Oneself, you will love Ed Hess’ new book: “OWN YOUR WORK JOURNEY!: The Path to Meaningful Work and Happiness in the Age of Smart Technology and Radical Change.” Ed truly aims to help others become their best selves, and reading his book inspired me to write this blog.
We were also joined recently by the author of “Life is a Metaphor”, George Pransky. George recently suffered a stroke but bravely joined us alongside his wife and business partner, Linda Pransky. Check out that episode here: