ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (6): 1029-1048.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.01029

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles    

Accept or change your fate: Exploring the Golem effect and underdog effect of underdog expectations

MA Jun, ZHU Mengting()   

  1. School of Management, Shanghai University, Shanghai 200444, China
  • Received:2021-12-28 Published:2023-06-25 Online:2023-03-10
  • Contact: ZHU Mengting
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(71872111)


In organizations, some employees are heralded as rising stars, whilst others are considered underdogs with no prospects. Scholars define individuals’ perceptions that others view them as unlikely to succeed as underdog expectation. The traditional view indicates that when individuals experience underdog expectations from others, they will reduce their subsequent performance through a sense of self-efficacy. This phenomenon, in which one’s performance is manipulated by someone else’s negative assessment, is also known as the Golem effect. Indeed, some studies have suggested that underdog expectations can enhance their desire to prove others wrong to improve performance. However, such studies have only focused on the influence of underdog expectations on employee behavior as social-situation cues but have disregarded its interaction with individuals’ traits. By integrating the preceding arguments, we proposed a comprehensive model based on trait activation theory, which examines the Golem and underdog effects. Specifically, under the moderating effect of underdog expectations, employees with fixed mindsets have a negative impact on subsequent task performance through feedback- avoiding behavior. Meanwhile, employees with growth mindsets have a positive impact on subsequent task performance by proving others wrong. The task context (task focus vs. future focus) plays a role in inhibiting and amplifying the two interactions.

This study aimed to explore the reasons why employees who are trapped in underdog expectations become a Golem manipulated by fate and how to counter strike and become an underdog in the workplace. This study constructed a three-term interaction model of nested moderated mediation model. Three studies were designed to explore the internal and intervention mechanisms of the Golem and underdog effects activated by underdog expectations. In the first study, the existence of three interactions was initially examined through a multi-source, multi-point questionnaire of 341 employees. To test the stability of the three interactions and the extensibility of the research conclusions in different groups, a second multi-source and multi-time questionnaire survey involving 650 employees and a field study based on a quasi-experiment were designed for retesting. Regression analysis, bootstrap method and Johnson?Neyman (J?N) technology were used to analyse the questionnaire data to examine the moderated mediation effects of the three-term interaction. T-tests were used to analyse data from the field study.

The analyses of the study showed the following results. (1) The interaction between underdog expectations and fixed mindsets positively affects subsequent task performance through feedback-avoiding behavior. (2) The interaction between underdog expectations and growth mindsets positively affects subsequent task performance through the desire to prove others wrong. (3) Lastly, task focus reduces the positive moderating effect of underdog expectations on fixed mindsets, and future focus strengthens the positive moderating effect of underdog expectations on growth mindsets.

Findings of our research have several theoretical and practical implications. This study revealed the causes of the Golem and underdog effects, thereby enriching and expanding the research on implicit theory. It showed that fixed and growth mindsets have different paths in processing negative information, which is helpful in integrating the research on underdog and topdog employees. It also provided a theoretical explanation and transformation idea for the emergence and popularity of the depressed culture represented by the lie down and Buddha-like mindsets.

Key words: mental traits, underdog expectations, feedback-avoiding behavior, desire to prove others wrong, task focus, future focus