The self-fulfilling prophecy
Have you ever had the experience of waking up one day following a lousy nights’ sleep after several nightmares and thought to yourself: “this is going to be a crappy day”, and at the end of the day concluded that your predictions were correct and this was exactly what happened? You may have been thinking to yourself that you completely predicted the outcome of your day, and that you probably should have stayed at home.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is a concept used by the American sociologist Robert Merton to describe how a statement may alter actions and therefore become true. In situations where many individuals act on the basis of an expectation, they may actually influence the likelihood than an incident will take place. Even in places where there is no reason to worry, the feared outcomes may take place if enough people act as if there were some kind of basis for the fear.
Self-fulfilling prophecies may lead to unfavorable outcomes, such as in situations as described above. But the dire expectation that an event may take place may also have more serious consequences such as bankruptcies, scarcity of food and goods, pressures on the stock-markets, and may even lead to wars.
One example of the self-fulfilling prophecy is the placebo effect. This effect has been demonstrated in several medicinal studies, and may be described as a felt improvement in health which is not attributable to the medication or the given treatment. Instead the patients’ belief in the treatment leads to a psychological effect by enhancing the immune system to faster recovery.
The self-fulfilling prophecy has also been demonstrated socially in experiments where people justify their prejudice toward members of other ethnic groups. This could be illustrated in the following statement: “We don’t want those people her because they only stick to themselves anyway, they are so chauvinistic.”
While the self-fulfilling prophecy does not have the force to alter natural events such as hurricanes or earthquakes, your personal attitude may influence smaller everyday situations as how you relate to other people and their response to your behavior. In other words, you may influence other peoples’ perceptions if you apply an optimistic mindset. On the other hand, people who tend to be caught in negative self-fulfilling prophecies often suffer from low self-esteem with an overly critical self-evaluation.