Once upon a time, before Alicia Silverstone posed nude for PETA, a clever scientist called Rosenthal tenderly tended to a squeaky collection of lab rats. After the little rats scoffed down their delectable camembert feast, he carefully separated them into two groups.
Group one consisted of the super-brainy, smarty pants rodents, while Group two contained your average neighbourhood “beer short of a 6 pack”, garden variety rats. He set up two identical mazes and brought out his eager science students to train the rats to go through the maze.
So… which group do you think did better? The know-it-all rats or the Mickey mouses?
If you’re waiting for a shock answer here, you’ll be sadly disappointed. Because the gifted rats did much better in the maze mastery test than their less intellectually endowed friends.
Another science experiment that sits up there with the one that found that after you have kids, you do more housework and sleep less. Sigh. And also, yawn.
But wait! I was just about to slam that ole textbook shut when my eyes flicked over the next paragraph. Apparently there was no such thing as a smart or stupid rat, at least in Rosenthal’s ratty collection. Instead, Rosenthal had randomly divided his rats into two groups. They were equally brilliant. Or not so much. The only difference was in what he told his science students. In other words he LIED to them, telling them that one group contained gifted rats while the other group contained stupid rats.
In an interesting turn of events, it seemed that the students unconsciously influenced the performance of their rats, based on their expectations of how the rats would perform. If they expected their rats to do well, then they did. If they expected them to become hopelessly lost in the maze, then they generally did.
Oh the ramifications of this little gem.
From now on, my expectation will be that all of my children are genius athletes who will keep their bedrooms impeccably tidy at all times!
And as for my expectations of myself… I will always look impeccably groomed, in my immaculately clean home while being cheerful at all times and working 6 hours a night whilst my perfect family is slumbering soundly. That is, after spending 4 hours at the gym of course.
I don’t question Rosenthal’s findings. It’s true that if you set high expectations of yourself and others, you are inclined to meet them. But at what cost? Exhaustion, fear of failure, anxiety, guilt? I’m not sure I want that for my children. Or for myself.
We aren’t lab rats. Or at least we shouldn’t be made to feel like one. Lab rats generally don’t navel gaze about their expectations of themselves or others. They just get on with the job of scampering through the fields collecting grains, making a gazillion babies, gnawing through the electrical cables of houses, scaring the camembert out of late night bloggers and taunting their less than gifted cats.
They don’t set out to become the fastest maze runner. It’s someone else who smacks that expectation onto them and I suspect that it doesn’t make them that happy.
The rat race is an inevitable part of life. We need to race to survive. But I wonder if sometimes we scurry around a million mazes more than we need to because we’re conforming to society’s unrealistic expectations of us, rather than what is truly required.
“Happiness equals reality minus expectations” Tom Magliozzi
Sometimes I think we’re better off clamouring over the occasional maze wall and escaping to the hills with a big wedge of camembert, don’t you?
Do you feel under pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations, or do you march to the beat of your own drum?
Back with the lovely Jess from Diary of a SAHM for #iBOT…