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Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

 

Explanations > Theories > Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

If a person thinks we are clever or stupid or whatever, they will treat us that way. If we are treated as if we are clever, stupid or whatever, we will act, and even become, this way. The person has thus had their prophecy about us fulfilled!

This is also known as the Pygmalion Effect.

Research

Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, in 1968, gave all the children in an elementary class a test and told teachers that some of children were unusually clever (though they were actually average). They came back at the end of the school year and tested the same class again. Guess what? The children singled out had improved their scores far more than other children. (Rosenthal 1995).

Example

A management consultant starts off an engagement constantly agreeing with a senior manager in an attempt to build trust. Before long, the senior manager is expecting agreement every time. The consultant soon becomes a confirmed yes-man.

So what?

Using it

To make a person act in a certain way, all you have to do is believe this when you interact with them. If you find it hard to make this jump, persuade others that the target person has desired attributes.

Defending

When people treat you as if you had certain attributes, decide whether this is desirable or not. Question their behavior if you do not wish to be pushed in this direction.

See also

Attribution Theory, Confirmation Bias, Mood-Congruent Judgment, Self-Verification Theory

References

Merton (1948), Rosenthal (1995)

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