Published on:

10th May 2021


The Pygmalion effect states that if you have an image of a person’s behavior and personality, that’s exactly who they’ll become. Our perception becomes reality, because we can’t help but act accordingly and mold them in our perception’s image.

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Patrick King is an internationally bestselling author and social skills coach. emotional and social intelligence. Learn more or get a free mini-book on conversation tactics at https://bit.ly/pkconsulting

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Acting as if you like someone is helpful in making yourself likable, but just as helpful is putting a set of positive expectations on them.

This is known as the Pygmalion Effect, named for the mythical Greek figure who fell in love with his own sculpture. It states that if you have an image of that person’s behavior and personality, that’s exactly who they’ll become.

The implication is that however you view someone, you will treat them in a way that brings that behavior out of them. If you think someone is incredibly annoying, you will be standoffish toward them and generally act in a manner that is actually irritating in and of itself, motivating them to behave annoyingly. If you think poorly of someone, you will act toward them in a manner that will make them do worse, and you won’t give them the benefit of the doubt.

On the other hand, if you think well of someone, you will act toward them in a manner that encourages them to be better and you will give them more chances; you will allow them, or encourage them, to rise to the occasion.

lion Effect was discovered in:

At the end of the school year, the students took another IQ test, and the 20 percent who were randomly selected had the largest gain in IQ—the ones the teachers thought were the smartest. What did this mean? The teachers subconsciously or consciously treated them differently and gave them preferential treatment because they had a good impression of them and their intellect. The students became who the teachers thought they were. Thus, a key to likability is to have positive perceptions of people so that they can become who we think they are.

Never underestimate the power of your own expectations; they are virtually a building block of our reality. You create the world you reside in through your beliefs. If you were told someone was charming and fascinating, you would dig deeper into their background and discover what might be interesting about them. Conversely, if you were told that same person was a boring dud, you may not even bother engaging them. Our assumptions and expectations dictate our actions and create self-fulfilling prophecies.

In another example with children, suppose one parent decided her kids were smart, while another parent decided her kids weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. The first parent would help her child with homework, get them a tutor, and make sure they were fulfilling their potential for intelligence.

The second parent would ignore her child’s homework and tell them to apply themselves in other ways outside the classroom. There would be a huge disparity in attention and emphasis on studying, and thus the kids would turn out to fulfill their parents’ expectations. They receive positive or negative feedback, and the cycle grows.

We like to imagine that we are treating everyone equally. That is essentially impossible if we think poorly of them. And remember from earlier, where we discovered that we don’t really hide our judgments or thoughts very well, and that they will always leak out through our behaviors? The Pygmalion Effect ensures that our perception is reflected in the real world, for better or worse.

Given this, how can understanding the Pygmalion Effect help your likability?

Assume the best of the people you’re speaking with, and you will start treating them in a way that makes them like you more. Recall that people become who we expect them to be, so if we expect them to be charming and kind, we will bring that out of them. Above all else, you’re going to be sending 100 percent positive and friendly signals to everyone, and people tend to respond favorably to these. When people are kind to us, we tend to be kind to them in return, and the Pygmalion Effect is broken.

In a way this underlies one of the most central rules for social success: stop being so self-centered and take an interest in others! Easy in theory, but a bit more difficult in practice.


We continue on with the discussion of perception and the shallow understandings that create our realities.

Many people have an idea that appearing complex and mysterious to others will intrigue them, and that this is a viable method of creating social success. It may actually work its charm here and there. However, this strategy will be mostly counterproductive, especially when talking about practical results.

This is because of what’s known as cognitive and processing fluency—the ease with which information can be processed by our brains. The fundamental implication of cognitive and processing fluency is that we like things that are simple and quickly understood. The term actually comes from marketing, where it is applied in many areas including core components of a business’s identity such as brand naming and logo design. What is easily understood tends to stick in our brains longer and be subconsciously more likable.

It makes a lot of sense in the marketing world, which is filled with simple slogans like “Just do it,” and applying processing fluency to a social context suggests that it’s in our best interest to appear familiar and similar to others so that they can understand us instantly and thus like us more.

We are naturally more receptive to information that appears simple, and we are put off by things that seem overly complex. For personal interactions, anything that affects processing fluency can—and does—have an impact on how others will perceive you. As a result, there are many seemingly insignificant aspects of how we present ourselves that end up making a real difference in our social success.

mes from a study conducted in:

Song and Schwarz gave study participants instructions for anything from exercise regimes to cooking recipes, and they varied the fonts from basic and clear to more fancy and complex styles. They found that for the exact same set of instructions, font type directly affected how difficult the task seemed to the readers. The less simple and easy to read the font was, the greater the tendency to rate the task outlined in the instructions as more complicated. In other words, people were correlating the difficulty of reading the instructions with the challenge of performing the task itself.

We can conclude, therefore, that the ease with which we can read instructions translates immediately onto our perception of how easy the task itself will be.

What does this mean? When we can’t quickly and easily understand something or someone, we think of it as difficult and like it less. We think we’re missing something, we feel confused, and we start to associate the person or experience with negative feelings. On the other hand, things that are easy to process and understand immediately are naturally more likable. We simply like things that are easy for us.

In terms of social success, then, your goal should be to appear simple (read: not complex or mysterious) so that others can understand who you are immediately and without much effort. But how can you actually use the ideas of cognitive fluency to make yourself quickly and easily understood?

It starts with that all-important first impression.

Whenever you are introducing yourself to somebody new, explain yourself in a simple and easy-to-understand way. Be conscious to speak loudly and clearly so that others don’t have to struggle to listen to you. Appear honest to avoid making others expend effort analyzing your motives and whether or not you are trustworthy. And most of all, appear straightforward and direct—save your complex thoughts and nuanced beliefs for future interactions, and focus instead on presenting yourself to be a simple person with clear motivations.

If you think that it’s not so easy to appear simple, there’s something helpful you can do. Start by developing some sort of narrative for yourself, as if you are a character from a story or film. Do you have any core philosophies that guide your actions through life? It’s difficult to appear simple and to act consistently without a solid understanding of what you believe and why.

All of the great fictional characters have actions that make you think, “Oh, that makes sense,” because of their background and story. James Bond doesn’t ever get flustered, so eventually, he will find a way out of even the most perilous circumstances—usually with just seconds to spare. Harry Potter represents courage and love, so in the big moments of the series, he always acts out of those two dispositions.

Both Harry Potter and James Bond, as well as all the other great characters of our time, are inherently simple to understand. They are endeared to us because they are entirely relatable. They are a certain way because of the things that happened to them in the past—just like us. Though real humans do not live through cinematic formulae, we are all driven by our own set of values.

When you have a personal narrative and you apply it consistently, your statements and behaviors will appear to all make sense and form an easily understood picture of yourself. That makes it simpler and more efficient for people to process information about you, which in turn makes you more likable than you would otherwise be as a complex and inconsistent person.

The gain-loss principle and its supporting evidence help us to understand that when we like others, they’re significantly more likely to like us back, plain and simple. The Pygmalion Effect piggybacks on this by making the equation depend in part on encouraging people to display positive behaviors.

And when it comes to those ultra-important first impressions, don’t try to seem complex, deep, aloof, or mysterious. For every person whose attention you grab with this tactic, you’ll just confuse and deter the vast majority of the others. Instead, give yourself a narrative and act accordingly, presenting yourself in a way that makes it easy for others to understand you.

It is difficult to overstate how important a role perception plays in our social success. According to the three preceding theories, impressions are not just lasting but entirely passive preconceived notions. Rather, they actively pave the way in establishing how the relationship between newly met people will develop in the long run. They definitely have something to do with the buildup of another person’s character—of how they will see and treat you eventually. In a much broader sense, these early impressions create the reality that will surround your relationship with people.

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About the Podcast

Social Skills Coaching
Become More Likable, Productive, and Charismatic
While everyone wants to make themselves and their lives better, it has been hard to find specific, actionable steps to accomplish that. Until now...

Patrick King is a Social Interaction Specialist, in other words, a dating, online dating, image, and communication, and social skills coach based in San Francisco, California. He’s also a #1 Amazon best-selling dating and relationships author with the most popular online dating book on the market and writes frequently on dating, love, sex, and relationships.

He focuses on using his emotional intelligence and understanding of human interaction to break down emotional barriers, instill confidence, and equip people with the tools they need for success. No pickup artistry and no gimmicks, simply a thorough mastery of human psychology delivered with a dose of real talk.

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Russell Newton