The Power of Expectations

Expectations matter.

We are confident when we expect to do well.  We do poorly when we expect to do poorly.

I get it.

But that’s not the half of it.  Expectations are so powerful they have made it possible for a blind man to “see.”

You’ve got all the smart kids (wink, wink)

Dud or bloomer? Depends on what you expect.

There was a point about expectations in the episode of This American Life titled “Batman” that blew me away.

The program reviews a famous study by psychologist Robert Rosenthal.  Rosenthal had a theory about the relationship between teacher expectations and student performance.

This theory motivated a 1968 study he conducted at a California elementary school. In this study, Rosenthal labeled the class rosters prior to the first day of school to show which students were “blooming” and which were “duds” (my term).

These labels made teachers believe they had either the smart kids or the “duds” in their classes, yet the labels were completely bogus: the student assignments were random.

At the end of the year the student re-test results were remarkable: students in classes falsely labeled “ready to bloom” had higher test score gains than students in falsely labeled “not ready to bloom” classes.

The students lived up to…or down to…their teacher’s expectations.

Mom raised the expectations bar from “blind kid” to normal

Daniel Kish — “Look mom, no eyes!”

The Batman podcast moves on to introduce Daniel Kish.  When Kish was 13-months old, cancer destroyed his vision and led him to a life with prosthetic (glass) eyes.

Kish grew up with a mother who had expectations that he’d go beyond “blind kid” expectations and have a normal childhood. So, as a young, rambunctious boy, Kish grew up climbing all over his mostly child-proof house. From the fifth grade on he walked to school on his own. He learned to ride the bike his mother gave him for Christmas – even after crashing into a pole and losing some teeth.

The worst part of being blind…low expectations

The podcast moves on from Kish to Robert A. (Bob) Scott, author of The Making of Blind Men.  Scott studied blindness made this point:

The disability of blindness is a learned social role. The attitudes and behavior that characterize people who are blind are not inherent in their condition. They come through ordinary processes of social learning.

In other words, the limitations of blindness come from low expectations.

That is amazing.

Expectations Reveal Possibilities

Daniel Kish can’t see.  But he’s having an amazing life.

Kish earned a Master’s Degree in Developmental Psychology.  He founded and serves as President of World Access for the Blind.  He’s been in a movie and on TV.  He has pioneered human echolocation (thus the Batman nickname).  Daniel Kish is famous.

Expectations opened a world and Kish cycled in.

My Challenge for You

You know someone who “isn’t good at math” and knows it because a high school guidance counselor said so.  Maybe someone told you you’re a loser, not creative or can’t write.

I challenge you to experiment with this idea of raising expectations.

How can you set higher expectations for your own life?



Jim Earley,
Master Certified Coach


Links & Resources

This American Life & Batman

The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See by Michael Finkel

Daniel Kish on Wikipedia

The “Pygmalion/Rosenthal Effect”

The research of Robert Rosenthal

The Making of Blind Men by Robert A. Scott

Human ecolocation = human ability to detect objects sensing echoes from those objects



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