While I can hardly claim to be an expert in psychology, I have picked up one or two interesting concepts throughout my studies & my work in medical research. One concept that particularly resonates with me is the Golem-Pygmalion Effect, & certainly plays a key role in the modern age of mental wellbeing.
Put simply the Golem-Pygmalion Effect is the idea that negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes, & positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes, a notion that will be familiar to anyone who has had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The Golem part refers to anthropomorphic creatures made of mud or clay brought to life to aid people, but becoming increasingly corrupt over time according to Jewish folklore. They represent the negative effect. The Pygmalion part refers to an ancient Greek sculptor who allegedly carved a figure so beautiful he fell in love with it, as you do. This represents the positive effect.
Quite often people manage to inflict the Golem-Pygmalion Effect on themselves. Ever wondered how the people auditioning for contests like The X-Factor have managed to convince themselves that they have the voice of an angel, when in fact what comes out of their mouth is more akin to a horse trying to yodel with a sore throat? Pygmalion effect. The person who believes themselves to be completely unable to understand maths, & gives a ridiculous answer to a simple problem just because the numbers panic them? Golem effect.
However, we’re also capable of inflicting the Golem-Pygmalion Effect on others. The teacher that tells a student they have absolutely no chance of passing, however hard they work, often acts surprised when that student fails their exam, but in reality they laid the foundation for failure by discouraging instead of helping a student. The prison warden who believes all of the inmates to be the scum of the Earth without a chance of redemption, will act surprised when the same people return to their care only months after release. While in both cases the failings cannot entirely be blamed on either the teacher or the guard, the Golem effect is undeniable.
Nor does this psychological phenomenon apply to individuals only; whole populations can be affected. A large amount of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, & of course ableism, stems from the Golem effect. For centuries women were told they could do neither the academic nor physical things men do, so unsurprisingly they rarely did, & the same applies to BIPOC (black & indigenous people of colour).
Society believes that disability means that we can’t do things. We can’t go to school. We can’t go to work. We can’t be independent. We can’t do sports (in my case this has nothing to do with the disability; I was rubbish at sports long before becoming sick). These perceptions then mean that inaccessibility is common; why be accessible when disabled people can’t do the things able-bodied people do anyway? It’s no wonder that disabled people have so much difficulty finding suitable employment when employers believe us to be unemployable.
The Department of Work & Pensions is also so overrun with the Golem effect that I wouldn’t be surprised if employees are required to move around the office in an awkward crouch, communicating only in expressions of preciousness. They believe disabled people to be fraudulent as a default, & go to great lengths to find the slightest piece of something barely worthy of the name “evidence” to back up their assumptions.
The Golem effect is a mask for oppression, often sub-conscious but ever-present. I believe it explains a lot of discrimination experienced throughout human history, & may allow us to understand the thought processes behind prejudice.
So, how do we combat the Golem effect? I would say with the Pygmalion effect. Promoting the positive success stories of various minorities, not as inspiration porn, but to obliterate the negative stereotypes that humanity clings to. It is, however, important to remember that the Golem-Pygmalion effect is a balance. Go too far towards the Pygmalion effect & every disabled person will be expected to be a Paralympic gold-medallist with a PhD to boot, a notion which could also do significant damage to the community. Perhaps the ideal solution would be not to have any expectations at all, & to leave it up to the individual as to their strengths & capabilities.