What seemed like a typical day at school for Jane Elliot's second grade class would soon turn into an important sociological experiment. The year was 1968 and the country was mourning the death of two leaders, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The world was a troubled place, the United States was at war with Vietnam and the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. The civil rights movement was still in its infancy.
The unsuspecting second graders sat dutifully at their desks. The unsegregated all-Caucasian class expected a lesson in perhaps reading or science. Instead Ms. Elliot gave them something that would change their reality. She told the class of innocent wide-eyed children that science had recently discovered that blue-eyed children were superior to brown-eyed children. She went further and said that the brown-eyed children were found to be lazy, untrustworthy and stupid.
What Ms. Elliot did not realize were the ramifications of this little piece of information. She expected some reaction but was amazed at how quickly it took place. The "inferior" brown-eyed children changed their behavior becoming timid and placid while their "superior" blue-eyed compatriots turned bossy and arrogant. More importantly she was surprised at how their academic performance changed. Blue-eyed children improved while brown-eyed children struggled. Even those brown-eyed children who were high achievers struggled.
The next day Ms. Elliot began the class by telling the children that she had discovered that she was wrong about what she told them the day before. She said it was the brown-eyed children who were superior. The behaviors now miraculously reversed with the brown-eyed children exhibiting a superior performance.
Ms. Elliot's motive for doing this experiment was to explore the effects of discrimination. How we treat others depends on what we think about them. Arriving at an erroneous conclusion about someone based on how they appear or what social class they belong to may actually contribute to the way they behave. What we expect from others is what we get.
If we look deeper into Ms. Elliot's impromptu experiment we can see that perhaps there is a more fundamental process at work. What Ms. Elliot imparted to those innocent children on that day can be thought of as a piece of information. She did not use a mere random construction of words but words that were connected in a way to convey a meaning. It is the way things like words are connected that is important with regard to information.
The information immediately changed the children's perception of reality. Reality, in their eyes was now seen within the context of blue versus brown eyes. With their realities changed the children now behaved according to their assigned superior or inferior groups. Even those who were excellent students performed poorly in the "inferior" group just as those who were struggling performed better in the "superior" group. All this because of a little packet of information.
Since Ms. Elliot's experiment there has been much written about how a teacher's expectancy affects performance. It is generally agreed that expectancy is an important phenomenon. Expectancy, just like Ms. Elliot's statements about blue and brown eyes can also be thought of as information. Some studies purport that information is thought to be transferred via subtle cues such as body language and voice inflection.
But can we go even further with this concept of information transfer. Perhaps an argument can be made that mere intention is a form of information transfer. Could it be that intention affects performance? What if Ms. Elliot just held the intention that the blue-eyed children were superior? What if she still treated all of the children alike with the only difference being her intention?
I would conjecture to say that intention indeed does affect the behavior of others. In my own personal experience as an alternative health practitioner I have witnessed others heal when I hold the intention to heal. Researchers have also studied the phenomenon on non-locality whereby one person or group of people can send information such as a picture to another across great distances. Sick people who are prayed for heal faster and whole cities experience lower crime rates when a large group of people meditated transmitting a peaceful message.
Reality consists of a range of possibilities. It is information that narrows this range to just one possibility. In physics this is called the collapse of the probability wave. A substance is in two states such as a wave or a particle until observed by someone. Once an observer is brought into the picture the substance becomes either a wave or a particle. In the case of light, it is the intention of the observer that determines whether light manifests as a wave or a particle. This tiny bit of information coming from an observer is enough to affect physical reality. Physical reality responds to what one is looking for.
The same sort of phenomenon occurs with people. It may be that your intention narrows the range of possible behaviors in others. It does so by transferring information to the system of you and another. The implications of this are deep. You can choose your intentions. You can be a beacon of light, of hope and healing or a source of darkness and frustration. The important thing is that it is your choice. Be careful for what you intend or expect because you may just affect reality enough to get it.