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Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Picture this: You are about to give an important speech in front of your whole school; you have done your research and practiced many times what you will say in front of your family and friends. However, you get this feeling that it isn’t going to end well. Instead of “nerves of steel”, you have “ants in your pants”, and as you walk to the podium, you continue to doubt yourself.

As you begin your speech, you forget your words and make several mistakes. In that instant, you just self-fulfilled your prophecy!

  • What is the self-fulfilling prophecy?
  • What are the different types of self-fulfilling prophecies?
  • What are some examples of self-fulfilling prophecies in psychology?
  • What are the positive and negative impacts of self-fulfilling prophecies?

Definition of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

One important theory insSocial psychology is attribution theory, which looks at the two ways that our brain tries to make sense of how someone behaves. We either think a person's behavior is because of their personality (internal factors), or we think it's because of their circumstances in life (external factors).

Ashely and Mandy are college roommates. They are both taking Dr. Maddox's class. Although they share a room and get along, these girls are very different. Mandy always shows up to Dr. Maddox's class on time, while Ashely is usually tardy. Mandy believed that showing up late is part of Ashely's personality, but she later learnt that Ashely has a class before Dr. Maddox's, and that professor always holds them back. Mandy now attributes Ashely's lateness to something out of her control.

One concept of attribution theory is self-fulfilling prophecies. Self-fulfilling prophecies are the idea that people behave in a way that supports a certain belief. It could be their own belief or the belief of someone else. When those behaviors lead to that belief coming true, the person fulfills their own or someone else's "prophecy".

Self-fulfilling prophecy is the notion that people act on behavior that supports a certain belief, and when those behaviors lead to that belief coming true, the person's "prophecy" has been self-fulfilled. (Check out Attribution Theory for more information.)

Cassandra believes that people are either good or bad at math, and she thinks that she belongs in the bad group. Instead of studying for her Calculus exam, she decides to spend time with her friends. When she receives a failing grade on her test, this confirms her idea that people are naturally good or bad at math, and that she is naturally bad. It doesn't occur to her to try studying next time!

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy At a crossroads, with markers named hope and despair StudySmarterBeliefs determine direction, pixabay.com

You can think of self-fulfilling prophecies happening in a cycle:

  1. A person holds a certain belief.

  2. The person behaves according to what they believe.

  3. Their actions lead to their belief coming true.

  4. The prophecy has been self-fulfilled.

  5. Repeat (The cycle starts over).

Remember: Self-fulfilling prophecies can be based on our own beliefs, or beliefs that others have about us.

Types of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

There are two types of self-fulfilling prophecies. One is for self-fulfilling prophecies based on beliefs that others have about us, and the other is based on beliefs that we have about ourselves.

Other-Imposed Prophecies

Other-imposed prophecies occur when others have expectations for us, and their expectations impact the way we behave. This could also occur when someone predicts that something will happen to us, and it becomes true because of actions that we take to make it happen.

Anna visited a fortune-teller's booth at a local carnival. The fortune-teller told her that she was going to meet someone and fall in love within the next year. Anna was skeptical, but the fortune-teller really believed it! After that, Anna felt more motivated to meet new people and go on dates. Before the year was over, she met someone and fell in love. If the fortune-teller hadn't believed that Anna could meet someone and fall in love within the year, Anna wouldn't have been as motivated to go on dates. She wouldn't have met someone and fulfilled the prophecy!

Self-Imposed Prophecies

Self-imposed prophecies occur when we have beliefs or expectations about ourselves and we act according to those beliefs or expectations. Our actions then make what we were believing or expecting to happen, actually become true.

Jake believes that he will make the soccer team because he is the best goalie in his friend group. On the day of tryouts, Jake shows up early and feels confident. When it's Jake's turn to show off his skills, he feeds off his adrenaline and does not let a single ball touch the net. When the roster list is handed out, Jake is listed as goalie. He tells his friends that he knew he would be assigned the position all along.

Examples of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Let's look at some more examples of these prophecies at work.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and the Placebo Effect

A common science-based example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is the placebo effect. The placebo effect occurs when someone experiences positive outcomes from a pseudo treatment, as they believed they were receiving the real treatment. They aren't supposed to improve because the treatment they were given doesn't work! They end up improving solely due to their own beliefs or expectations of getting better.

Eric is participating in a new research study that is trying to prove the effectiveness of a pill for balding men. In this study, there will be two groups to observe if the pill will help men grow hair. One group will be given the test pill, while the second group is given a placebo that should not have any effects. Eric is given the placebo pill, but he does not know this. After a couple of days, Eric thinks that he is growing hair in his bald spot. He keeps taking the pill, and after a few weeks, he believes that his hair has grown even more.

When his wife checks, she does not see any difference.

Example of an Other-Imposed Prophecy

Alexander and Drake are driving on a long winding road. It begins to rain, so Alexander tells Drake to drive slower because he believes they will hydroplane. Drake does not listen because he thinks Alexander is being a "back seat driver" and keeps driving at the same speed. It begins to get dark so Alexander tells Drake to slow down once again. Drake listens this time, and as they're nearing their destination, they see a car in a ditch. Everyone in that car is okay, but apparently, they hydroplaned because they didn't slow down. Alexander gives Drake an "I told you so" look.

Example of a Self-Imposed Prophecy

Hannah Grace just started dating a new guy named Andrew. Hannah Grace likes Andrew, but she thinks that he's not marriage material because he is very focused on his job. Since Hannah Grace does not think Andrew is marriage material, she does not put much effort into their relationship. Andrew eventually breaks up with her for lack of support, and Hannah Grace tells her friends she knew it was going to end like that.

The Influence of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecies can influence how we and others behave. A great example of this is the Pygmalion effect. This is a type of other-imposed prophecy, and it expresses the notion that how we treat people can shape how that person acts.

Michael's football coach keeps benching him because he keeps fumbling the ball when running towards the goal line. To stop getting benched, Michael practices and practices, but during team practice, the coach only yells at him for his mistakes. Michael works even harder, but the coach still benches him. Due to lack of play-time and his coach's treatment of him, Michael stops playing football.

The Pygmalion effect was named by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson in 1960; they named it after the Greek myth. In the story, Pygmalion was an amazing sculptor. After many failed experiences with females, he focused more on his craft. He began to sculpt and carve a statue that he referred to as Galatea. As he kept sculpting, he found the statue to be the best-looking female he ever saw, falling in love with it. Pygmalion would dress up this statute, give gifts to it, and even provide it with offerings. Feeling pity for Pygmalion, Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty made the statue come alive. Pygmalion and Galatea fell in love, got married, and lived happily ever after.

Through our beliefs and expectations, we can influence our behavior or the behavior of others. These beliefs can have positive or negative impacts; the beliefs we hold about ourselves and about others are incredibly powerful!

Negative Impacts of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

An example of the negative impacts of self-fulfilling prophecies is stereotype threats. This is a term used to describe the idea that people unknowingly communicate stereotypes through certain actions. If someone holds a stereotype of a particular race, and then acts out their attitude in the way they treat those belonging to that race, they are adding to the overall threat of the negative stereotype on the self-image of others. They are reinforcing prejudice and biases that are inaccurate, and can cause the other person to have a poor self-image.

A teacher believes that her Asian students will perform well on her exam because she associates them with being smart. Due to this teacher's stereotype of Asian people, she tends to overlook and neglect these students, since she already thinks that they're smart. When the test results come in, her stereotype is confirmed because all the Asian students got As. She doesn't ask herself why those students got As and other students didn't. She has no idea the added pressure her stereotype is inflicting on her Asian students.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy - Key takeaways

  • Attribution Theory - This theory asserts there are two methods our brain uses to account for how someone behaves: the person's personality, or their circumstances in life.
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies - Used to describe the notion that people act on behavior that supports a certain belief. When those behaviors lead to that belief coming true, the person's "prophecy" has been self-fulfilled.
  • Other-imposed prophecies - Occur when others have expectations for us, and their expectations impact the way we behave. This could also occur when someone predicts that something will happen to us, and it comes true.
  • Self-imposed prophecies - Occur when we have beliefs, or expectations, about ourselves and we act according to those beliefs or expectations. Our actions then make what we were believing, or expecting, come true.
  • Pygmalion effect - A type of other-imposed prophecy. It expresses the notion that how we treat people can shape how that person acts.
  • Stereotype threat - A term used to describe the idea that through certain actions, we unknowingly confirm stereotypes that people hold.

Frequently Asked Questions about Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecies are used to describe the notion that people act on behavior that supports a certain belief, and when those behaviors lead to that belief coming true, the person's "prophecy" has been self-fulfilled.  

Self-fulfilling prophecies are important because they can be used to show how we can be influenced by our thoughts, or the thoughts of others. Also, it is a part of Attribution theory. 

  1. A person holds a certain belief. 
  2. The person behaves according to what they believe. 
  3. Their actions then lead to their belief coming true. 
  4. The prophecy has been self-fulfilled.

A science-based example of self-fulfilling prophecies would be the placebo effect. The placebo effect, in psychology, occurs when one experiences positive outcomes, even though they were given an inoperative treatment. To simplify, people who experience a placebo effect were given a treatment that resulted in an enhancement, but in reality, there were not supposed to see change, because the treatment they were given does not work. 

Self-fulfilling prophecies are used to describe the notion that people act on behavior that supports a certain belief, and when those behaviors lead to that belief coming true, the person's "prophecy" has been self-fulfilled.

Final Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Quiz

Question

How do self-fulfilling prophecies work? 


Show answer

Answer


  1. A person holds a certain belief. 
  2. The person behaves according to what they believe. 
  3. Their actions then lead to their belief coming true. 
  4. The prophecy has been self-fulfilled.
  5. Repeat. 



Show question

Question

What are the 4 stages of self-fulfilling prophecy? 

Show answer

Answer

  1. A person holds a certain belief 
  2. The person behaves according to what they believe 
  3. Their actions then lead to their belief coming true 
  4. The prophecy has been self-fulfilled

Show question

Question

Define Attribution Theory?

Show answer

Answer

This theory asserts that there are two methods that our brain uses to account for how someone behaves: the person's personality, or their circumstance in life.

Show question

Question

What are self-fulfilling prophecies?

Show answer

Answer

Self-fulfilling prophecies are used to describe the notion that people act on behavior that supports a certain belief, and when those behaviors lead to that belief coming true, the person's "prophecy" has been self-fulfilled. 

Show question

Question

What are other-imposed prophecies?

Show answer

Answer

Other-imposed prophecies occur when others have expectations for us, and their expectations impact the way we behave. This could also occur when someone predicts that something will happen to us, and it comes true.

Show question

Question

What are self-imposed prophecies? 

Show answer

Answer

Self-imposed prophecies occur when we have beliefs, or expectations, about ourselves and we act according to those beliefs or expectations. Our actions then make what we were believing, or expecting, come true. 

Show question

Question

What is the Pygmalion effect? 

Show answer

Answer

A type of other-imposed prophecy; it expresses the notion that how we treat people can shape how that person acts. 

Show question

Question

What are stereotype threats? 

Show answer

Answer

A term used to describe the idea that through certain actions, we unknowingly confirm stereotypes that people hold.

Show question

Question

Why is a self-fulfilling prophecy important? 

Show answer

Answer

Self-fulfilling prophecies are important because they can be used to show how we can be influenced by our thoughts or the thoughts of others. Also, it is a part of the Attribution Theory. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between self-imposed and other-imposed prophecies? 

Show answer

Answer

  • Other-imposed prophecies occur when others have expectations for us, and their expectations impact the way we behave.

  • Self-imposed prophecies occur when we have beliefs or expectations about ourselves and we act according to those beliefs or expectations. 

Show question

Question

What is the placebo effect? 

Show answer

Answer

The placebo effect occurs when someone experiences positive outcomes from a pseudo treatment because they believed they were receiving the real treatment.

Show question

Question

Who came up with "The Pygmalion effect"? 

Show answer

Answer

The Pygmalion effect was created by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson in 1960. 

Show question

Question

What was "The Pygmalion effect" named after? 

Show answer

Answer

Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson named it after the Greek myth of Pygmalion. 

Show question

Question

Give one example of why self-fulfilling prophecies can have negative impacts. 

Show answer

Answer

Stereotype threats

Show question

Question

Why are stereotype threats bad? 

Show answer

Answer

Stereotype threats help reinforce prejudice/bias that is inaccurate and can cause the other person to have a poor self-image.

Show question

Question

What is one example of a stereotype threat? 

Show answer

Answer

A teacher believes that her Asian students will perform well on her exam because she associates Asian people with being smart. Due to this teacher's stereotype of Asian people, she does not focus too much on those students. When the test results come in, she thinks that stereotype is true because all the Asian students got As. 

Show question

Question

True or false. Self-fulfilling prophecies are only based on our own beliefs.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

In this question, there are two correct answers. Other-imposed prophecies can also occur because:

Show answer

Answer

People act in a way to make those "prophecies" happen

Show question

Question

Self-fulfilling prophecies are the idea that people behave in a way that supports a certain ______.

Show answer

Answer

belief

Show question

Question

A typical science-based example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is the _______.

Show answer

Answer

placebo effect

Show question

Question

True or false. Self-fulfilling prophecies can influence how we and others behave.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false. Stereotype threats reinforce prejudice and biases that are inaccurate.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Your friend always likes to be the center of attention, and you think it's due to his personality. According to attribution theory, personality is an _____ factor.

Show answer

Answer

internal

Show question

Question

You think your friend is overweight because she's lazy and overeats. You later learned she has a medical condition that causes rapid weight gain. Now you attribute your friend's weight due to her circumstance. According to attribution theory, a person's circumstance is an ______ factor.

Show answer

Answer

external

Show question

Question

Although Andy had applied to the university of his dreams, he was discouraged by his parents' doubts that he could succeed. As a result, he didn't do well on his test. This situation is an example of:

Show answer

Answer

Other-imposed prophecy

Show question

Question

Which is not true about self-fulfilling prophecies?

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Answer

Self-fulfilling prophecies are only about beliefs that others have about us

Show question

Question

True or false. There are three types of self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Answer

False

Show question

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