There have been concerns mentioned about how teacher expectations may influence the quality of education students receive and in turn affect their performance (Smith et al., 1998). This would be the self-fulfilling prophecy in action (Smith et al., 1998) to which Synder (1977) has described the following process:

Attribution/prediction by others

Treated differently by others

Given more opportunity to confirm attribution/prediction by others

Behaviour often matched attribution/prediction

However, Smith et al. (1998) concluded that social perceptions are typically accurate. Likewise, Jussim and Harber (2005) discerned that teacher evaluations correlate with actual academic performances because teachers are usually accurate judges of student abilities. Though this evidence could be used to argue that the correlations were from teachers inadvertently confirming the evaluations by treating individuals differently, Jussim and Harber (2005) explained that the effects of self-fulfilling prophecies were so small that the accuracy of teacher predictions is due to the abilities of teachers to predict.

Nonetheless, a group of prisoners who had attended Farrell’s (1986) class was taught to pass an undergraduate course with a C or a higher accreditation. This was despite the low expectations from other staff members and a statement that only half had at least high school-equivalent qualifications (Farrell, 1986). The results were allegedly achieved by providing high expectations (Farrell, 1986). Farrell (1986) also described another way in how teacher expectations can affect performances:

Attribution/prediction by others

Treated differently by others

Believe attribution/prediction

Behaviour affected by self-image

Behaviour often matched attribution/prediction

It has to be mentioned though that Farrell (1986) had admitted that the study was an unplanned experiment without a control group. Still, Farrell’s (1986) stressed the need to repeatedly convey these positive evaluations, which has been proven by planned studies with control groups to affect intrinsic motivation or performance (Koestner, Zuckerman & Olsson, 1990; Meddock, Parsons & Hill, 1971). Mumm and Multu (2011) even found this effect of increased intrinsic motivation even when it was a computer that instigated the praise. However, not all types of praises have positive effects on motivation and performance, e.g. praises for intelligence rather than effort (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). By combining these conclusions the following model is made (Koestner et al., 1990; Meddock et al., 1971; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Mumm & Multu, 2011):

Appropriate praise from others

Increased intrinsic motivation

Improved performance

Similarly, destructive criticism can hinder performance by affecting motivation (Baron, 1988):

Destructive criticism from others

Reduced confidence

Reduced motivation

Hindered performance

The conclusion I draw from these findings that are unless the evaluations are conveyed, evaluations are unlikely to make a large impact on performance. What do you think?


Baron, R. A. (1988). Negative effects of destructive criticism: Impact on conflict, self-efficacy, and task performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 73, 199-207. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.73.2.199

Farrell, C. C. (1986). Pygmalion in the prison classroom. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 30, 151-162. doi:10.1177/0306624X8603000208

Jussim, L., & Harber, K. D., (2005). Teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies: Knowns and unknowns, resolved and unresolved controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9, 131-155. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0902_3

Koestner, R., Zuckerman, M., & Olsson, J. (1990). Attributional style, comparison focus of praise, and intrinsic motivation. Journal Of Research In Personality, 24, 87-100. doi:10.1016/0092-6566(90)90008-T

Meddock, T. D., Parsons, J. A., & Hill, K. T. (1971). Effects of an adult’s presence and praise on young children’s performance. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 12, 197-211. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(71)90004-X

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33-52. Retrieved from

Mumm, J., & Multu, B. (2011). Designing motivational agents: The role of praise, social comparison, and embodiment in computer feedback. Computers in Human Behavior, 27,1643-1650. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.02.002

Smith, A. E., Jussim, L., Eccles, J., VanNoy, M., Madon S., & Palumbo, P. (1998). Self-fulfilling prophecies, perceptual biases, and accuracy at the individual and group levels. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 530-561. doi:10.1006/jesp.1998.1363

Synder, M. (1977). When belief creates reality the self-fulfilling impact of first impressions on social interaction. In A. Pines, & C. Maslac (Eds.), Experiencing Social Psychology (pp. 96-107). New York, NY: Alfred Knopf.