The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect
The phenomenon whereby the greater the expectation placed upon an individual, the better they perform.

Page 0    Children are gifted with an incredible innocence and a clandestine view of the world but, somehow, as these children grown older these gifts are lost. Filled with love, hope, desire, and a limitless capacity to dream, children take in life experience like sponges and begin to build the lens in which they view the world one moment at a time. Sometimes we don’t always remember that it is us who shape this lens and the world in which children view it, and it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

As a child, my mom and I lived in a small apartment in a seedy part of town. We were very low income and, during that time, my mother worked three jobs just to afford to live there. She sacrificed everything for my education and, as a toddler, my mom gave me only educational games – toy stethoscopes, doctor’s kits and even purchased my first microscope when I was seven. She enrolled me in piano, clarinet and violin lessons, I studied graphic design and computer programming at age eight and swam competitively everyday, hoping that my developed talent might one day earn me a spot at Stanford. Everyday, my mom told me that ‘education would be the key to my freedom’ and I have lived by those words ever since.

I never believed I was any different from my classmates. I only knew that while they were complaining about eating vegetables for dinner, my mom and I went to McDonalds for 10-cent hamburgers that we froze to eat throughout the week. But, when I was in elementary school, I became the lucky victim of a social experiment that utilized the power of positive thinking in what is now termed as The Rosenthal or Pygmalion Effect. In this afterschool program, teachers pooled a selection of both advantaged and disadvantaged students and told us that we were ‘gifted’. We had the opportunity to skip class to go on special fieldtrips and take special classes that allowed us to push our limits of thinking beyond the classroom. Looking back, I don’t believe there was one child in our group that did not graduate high school and continue towards a life of success, and I know now that this was because we were told that we could.

Page 0(1)Another definition of the Pygmalion Effect states that it is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy where, if you think something will happen, you may unconsciously make it happen through your actions or inaction. Let me be the first to tell you that this effect is 100% tangible and true. Believing that you CAN accomplish something will open more doors than you could ever think possible. Somehow, a little girl who grew up in a studio apartment in a bad part of town became a published author, a UC Davis graduate, a pianist, a world traveler and the director of the Children’s Miracle Network Second Life Organization throughout Northern California – all because someone believed in me.

Looking back, I know that I was a truly blessed child as I was given every opportunity to succeed. But, on top of that, I was surrounded by people who believed that I could succeed. Unfortunately, not every child is so lucky. The adult world places stigmas on different social groups, limiting their dreams and desires to activities society deems fit. Whether it be age, culture or gender, children often find themselves categorized and their futures determined before they’ve ever had the opportunity to choose. As a woman in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, it seems like finding my place in the workforce is a constant battle against social stigma. Though society has come a long way in 50 years, remnants of this still remain as we often find ourselves fighting to prove our worth in fields where we are still the minority.

Here in lies the reason I find the Miss America Organization to be so incredible. Not only to we support STEM initiatives, something that is truly near and dear to my heart, but we also encourage women to pursue their childhood dreams and provide the platform to make this possible. As competitors in this organization, we are celebrated and encouraged to follow our hearts as doctors, astronauts, art teachers, computer scientists, politicians, mothers and home keepers. A title gives us the motivation to become the best version of ourselves that we could possibly be and to continue spreading this message by tirelessly serving our communities. From the moment we are crowned, we somehow become a beacon of light and a person of influence to children throughout the country. We are given the incredible power to change and shape the lens in which these children view the world and it is up to us to give them the power to accomplish the great things they dream of for themselves – through the power of positive thinking.

Ashley Ott
Miss City of Sacramento 2015