Pygmalion & Manhattan Effect vs. Michelangelo Phenomenon

In the last few weeks, we talked about the Manhattan effect and the Michelangelo phenomenon. Chances are, you’ve also heard of the Pygmalion effect and are wondering what are the differences and similarities among these phenomena. Today, you’ll find out!

Three different, but similar phenomena

The Michelangelo Phenomenon

In short, the Michelangelo phenomenon refers to a very positive relationship dynamic, in which a couple helps each other to become the best version of themselves. This way, both slowly flourish and come closer to self-actualization, the unlocking of their full potentials.

The basic attitude of the couple is: “I see your potential and will support you in fulfilling it no matter what”.

This is done mostly through words of affirmation.

The Manhattan Effect

The Manhattan effect, on the other hand, is a toxic relationship dynamic. It might look like the Michelangelo phenomenon on the surface, with lots of support coming from both ends. However, support is withdrawn whenever one of the people feels threatened by any plan, goal or development of their partner.

For example, if one of them goes on an exchange programme, they’ll be gone for some time; if they get a degree, they will earn more than the other, making them feel inferior. This means that one of the partners cares more about how any change will affect them than the overall happiness of the couple.

The basic attitude of one of the partners is: “I see your potential and will support you as long as your development doesn’t threaten me or our relationship status”. Unlike in the Michelangelo phenomenon, support is conditional for at least one of the parties.

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect has similarities to both phenomena explained above. One of the people, let’s call them Pygmalion, sees some potential in their partner and supports them in achieving it.

This might even happen unconsciously. For example, I might think that my new partner has some talent in a given sport and encourage him to pursue it professionally. However, that might be only an assumption quite different from his true potential.

The basic attitude of one of the partners is: “I’ll help you become my version of your best self”.

This dynamic isn’t necessarily bad. It can bring about many positive changes if what Pygmalion considers to be their partner’s potential isn’t too far from their truth. However, Pygmalion might be completely blind to it and miss some opportunities.

Problems arise when Pygmalion disagrees with their partners understanding of their own potential, refusing to support them in achieving it. That’s when the Pygmalion effect turns into the Manhattan effect.

By Daniele Zedda • 18 February

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