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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


The self-fulfilling prophecy is a psychological concept that refers to a prediction or belief that leads to its own fulfillment. This phenomenon has been widely studied in social psychology and has been shown to have significant effects on individuals and groups in a variety of contexts. Here I am aiming to explore the self-fulfilling prophecy in detail, including its definition, historical background, theoretical explanations, and practical implications.





Definition and Historical Background


The term "self-fulfilling prophecy" was coined by Robert K. Merton in 1948, in his seminal work Social Theory and Social Structure. Merton defined the self-fulfilling prophecy as "a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true" (Merton, 1948, p. 477). In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that influences behavior in such a way that it ultimately confirms the belief or expectation.


The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy has its roots in ancient Greek mythology. The story of Oedipus, for example, illustrates how a prophecy about his fate led to actions that ultimately fulfilled the prophecy. In modern times, the self-fulfilling prophecy has been studied extensively in social psychology, with researchers exploring its impact on various aspects of human behavior and social interaction.





Theoretical Explanations


Several theoretical explanations have been proposed to account for the self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the most influential is the expectancy theory, which posits that people's expectations of others can shape their behavior and ultimately influence the outcome of the interaction (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). According to this theory, when people have high expectations of someone, they tend to treat them differently, giving them more attention, feedback, and opportunities to succeed. As a result, the person is more likely to perform well and meet those high expectations. Conversely, when people have low expectations of someone, they tend to treat them less favorably, giving them less attention, feedback, and opportunities to succeed. As a result, the person is more likely to perform poorly and meet those low expectations.


Another theoretical explanation for the self-fulfilling prophecy is the self-verification theory, which suggests that people have a strong motivation to confirm their existing beliefs about themselves and others (Swann, 1987). According to this theory, people seek out and interpret information in a way that confirms their beliefs, even if those beliefs are negative or inaccurate. For example, a teacher who believes that a student is unintelligent may interpret their performance on a test as evidence of their lack of ability, even if the test is poorly designed or graded unfairly.


Practical Implications


The self-fulfilling prophecy has important practical implications for a variety of fields, including education, healthcare, and criminal justice. In education, for example, teachers' expectations of their students can have a significant impact on their academic performance (Jussim & Harber, 2005). When teachers have high expectations of their students, they tend to provide them with more challenging material, more feedback, and more opportunities to succeed. As a result, students are more likely to perform well and meet those high expectations. Conversely, when teachers have low expectations of their students, they tend to provide them with less challenging material, less feedback, and fewer opportunities to succeed. As a result, students are more likely to perform poorly and meet those low expectations.


Similarly, in healthcare, doctors' expectations of their patients can have a significant impact on their health outcomes (Becker & Maiman, 1980). When doctors have high expectations of their patients, they tend to provide them with more personalized care, more information about their condition, and more.


Resources:


  1. Merton, R. K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecy. The Antioch Review, 8(2), 193-210.

  2. Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils' intellectual development. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

  3. Swann, W. B. (1987). Identity negotiation: Where two roads meet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1038-1051.

  4. Jussim, L., & Harber, K. D. (2005). Teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies: Knowns and unknowns, resolved and unresolved controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9(2), 131-155.

  5. Becker, M. H., & Maiman, L. A. (1980). Sociobehavioral determinants of compliance with health and medical care recommendations. Medical Care, 18(4), 461-466.

  6. Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52(6), 613-629.

  7. Snyder, M. (1984). When belief creates reality. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 18, 247-305.

  8. Darley, J. M., & Gross, P. H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1), 20-33.

These sources provide a range of perspectives and empirical evidence on the self-fulfilling prophecy, including its origins, theoretical explanations, and practical implications.

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