A SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. Although examples of such prophecies can be found in literature as far back as ancient Greece and ancient India , it is 20th-century sociologist Robert K. Merton who is credited with coining the expression "self-fulfilling prophecy" and formalizing its structure and consequences. In his 1948 article Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Merton defines it in the following terms:
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.
In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion —declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy.
* 1 History of the concept
* 1.1 Applications
* 2 Sports * 3 Stereotype
* 4 Literature, media, and the arts
* 4.1 Classical
* 4.1.1 Greek
* 4.1.2 Roman
* 4.1.3 Arabic
* 4.1.4 Hinduism
* 4.1.5 Russian
* 4.1.6 European fairy tales
* 4.2 Modern
* 4.2.1 New Thought
* 5 Causal loop * 6 See also * 7 Notes * 8 Further reading
HISTORY OF THE CONCEPT
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Merton's concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy stems from the Thomas theorem , which states that "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences". According to Thomas, people react not only to the situations they are in, but also, and often primarily, to the way they perceive the situations and to the meaning they assign to their perceptions. Therefore, their behaviour is determined in part by their perception and the meaning they ascribe to the situations they are in, rather than by the situations themselves. Once people convince themselves that a situation really has a certain meaning, regardless of whether it actually does, they will take very real actions in consequence.
Merton took the concept a step further and applied it to recent social phenomena. In his book Social Theory and Social Structure, he conceives of a bank run at the fictional Last National Bank, over which Cartwright Millingville presides. It is a typical bank, and Millingville has run it honestly and quite properly. As a result, like all banks, it has some liquid assets (cash), but most of its assets are invested in various ventures. Then one day, a large number of customers comes to the bank at once—the exact reason is never made clear. Customers, seeing so many others at the bank, begin to worry. False rumours spread that something is wrong with the bank and more customers rush to the bank to try to get some of their money out while they still can. The number of customers at the bank increases, as does their annoyance and excitement, which in turn fuels the false rumours of the bank's insolvency and upcoming bankruptcy , causing more customers to come and try to withdraw their money. At the beginning of the day—the last one for Millingville's bank—the bank was not insolvent. But the rumour of insolvency caused a sudden demand of withdrawal of too many customers, which could not be answered, causing the bank to become insolvent and declare bankruptcy. Merton concludes this example with the following analysis:
The parable tells us that public definitions of a situation (prophecies or predictions) become an integral part of the situation and thus affect subsequent developments. This is peculiar to human affairs. It is not found in the world of nature, untouched by human hands. Predictions of the return of Halley\'s comet do not influence its orbit. But the rumoured insolvency of Millingville's bank did affect the actual outcome. The prophecy of collapse led to its own fulfilment.
Merton concluded that the only way to break the cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy is by redefining the propositions on which its false assumptions are originally based.
In economic "expectations models" of inflation, peoples' expectations of future inflation lead them to spend more today and demand higher nominal interest rates for any savings, since they expect that prices will be rising. This demand for higher nominal interest rates and increased spending in the present, in turn, create inflationary pressure and can cause inflation even if the expectations of future inflation are unfounded. The expectations theory of inflation played a large role in Paul Volcker 's actions during his tenure as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve in combating the "stagflation " of the 1970s.
One of the ideas I had discussed in The Poverty of Historicism was the influence of a prediction upon the event predicted. I had called this the " Oedipus effect", because the oracle played a most important role in the sequence of events which led to the fulfilment of its prophecy. … For a time I thought that the existence of the Oedipus effect distinguished the social from the natural sciences. But in biology, too—even in molecular biology—expectations often play a role in bringing about what has been expected.
An early precursor of the concept appears in Edward Gibbon 's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire : "During many ages, the prediction, as it is usual, contributed to its own accomplishment" (chapter I, part II).
Examples abound in studies of cognitive dissonance theory and the related self-perception theory ; people will often change their attitudes to come into line with what they profess publicly.
In the United States the concept was broadly and consistently applied in the field of public education reform, following the "War on Poverty ". Theodore Brameld noted: "In simplest terms, education already projects and thereby reinforces whatever habits of personal and cultural life are considered to be acceptable and dominant." The effects of teacher attitudes, beliefs and values, affecting their expectations have been tested repeatedly.
The phenomenon of the "inevitability of war" is a self-fulfilling prophecy that has received considerable study.
The idea is similar to that discussed by the philosopher William James as The Will to Believe . But James viewed it positively, as the self-validation of a belief. Just as, in Merton's example, the belief that a bank is insolvent may help create the fact, so too on the positive side, confidence in the bank's prospects may help brighten them. Similarly, Stock-exchange panic episodes and speculative bubble episodes can be triggered with the belief that the stock will go down (or up), thus starting the selling/buying mass move, etc.
A more Jamesian example: a swain, convinced that the fair maiden must love him, may prove more effective in his wooing than he would had his initial prophecy been defeatist.
There is extensive evidence of "Interpersonal Expectation Effects" where the seemingly private expectations of individuals can predict the outcome of the world around them. The mechanisms by which this occurs are also reasonably well understood: it is simply that our own expectations change our behaviour in ways we may not notice and correct. In the case of the "Interpersonal Expectation Effects", others pick up on non-verbal behaviour which affects their attitudes. A famous example includes a study where teachers were told arbitrarily that random students were "going to blossom". Oddly, those random students actually ended the year with significantly greater improvements.
Other specific examples discussed in psychology include:
In Canadian ice hockey, junior league players are selected based on skill, motor coordination, physical maturity, and other individual merit criteria. However, psychologist Robert Barnsley showed that in any elite group of hockey players, 40% are born between January and March, versus the approximately 25% as would be predicted by statistics. The explanation is that in Canada, the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1, and the players who are born in the first months of the year are older by 0–11 months, which at the preadolescent age of selection (nine or ten) manifests into an important physical advantage. The selected players are exposed to higher levels of coaching, play more games, and have better teammates. These factors make them actually become the best players, fulfilling the prophecy, while the real selection criterion was age. The same relative age effect has been noticed in Belgian soccer after 1997, when the start of the selection year was changed from August 1 to January 1.
This specific form of self-fulfilling prophecy is very common and takes many forms. For example, the expectancy for a political party to act in a certain way—based on race, religion, gender and much more—can eventually lead the said party to imitate the stereotype.
LITERATURE, MEDIA, AND THE ARTS
In literature, self-fulfilling prophecies are often used as plot
devices . They have been used in stories for millennia, but have
gained a lot of popularity recently in the science fiction genre. They
are typically used ironically, with the prophesied events coming to
pass due to the actions of one trying to prevent the prophecy (a
recent example would be the life of
Anakin Skywalker , the fictional
Jedi-turned-Sith Lord in
Many myths, legends and fairy tales make use of this motif as a central element of narratives that are designed to illustrate inexorable fate , fundamental to the Hellenic world-view. In a common motif, a child, whether newborn or not yet conceived, is prophesied to cause something that those in power do not want to happen. This may be the death of the powerful person; in more light-hearted versions, it is often the marriage of a poor or lower-class child to his own. The events come about, nevertheless, as a result of the actions taken to prevent them: frequently child abandonment sets the chain of events in motion.
The best known example from Greek legend is that of Oedipus . Warned that his child would one day kill him, Laius abandoned his newborn son Oedipus to die, but Oedipus was found and raised by others, and thus in ignorance of his true origins. When he grew up, Oedipus was warned that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Believing his foster parents were his real parents, he left his home and travelled to Greece, eventually reaching the city where his biological parents lived. There, he got into a fight with a stranger, his real father, killed him and married his widow, Oedipus' real mother.
Although the legend of Perseus opens with the prophecy that he will kill his grandfather Acrisius , and his abandonment with his mother Danaë , the prophecy is only self-fulfilling in some variants. In some, he accidentally spears his grandfather at a competition—an act that could have happened regardless of Acrisius ' response to the prophecy. In other variants, his presence at the games is explained by his hearing of the prophecy, so that his attempt to evade it does cause the prophecy to be fulfilled. In still others, Acrisius is one of the wedding guests when Polydectes tried to force Danaë to marry him, and when Perseus turns them to stone with the Gorgon 's head; as Polydectes fell in love with Danaë because Acrisius abandoned her at sea, and Perseus killed the Gorgon as a consequence of Polydectes' attempt to get rid of Danaë's son so that he could marry her, the prophecy fulfilled itself in these variants.
Greek historiography provides a famous variant: when the Lydian king
Croesus asked the
People do not necessarily have to unsuccessfully avoid a prophecy in
order for the prophecy to be self-fulfilling. For example, when it was
Romulus and Remus feeding from a wolf.
The story of Romulus and Remus is another example. According to legend, a man overthrew his brother, the king. He then ordered that his two nephews, Romulus and Remus, be drowned, fearing that they would someday kill him like he did to his brother. The boys were placed in a basket and thrown in the Tiber River . A wolf found the babies and she raised them. Later, a shepherd found the twins and named them Romulus and Remus. As teenagers, they found out who they were. They killed their uncle, fulfilling the prophecy.
A variation of the self-fulfilling prophecy is the self-fulfilling
dream, which dates back to medieval
Another variation of the self-fulfilling prophecy can be seen in "The
Tale of Attaf ", where
Self-fulfilling prophecies appear in classical
Sanskrit literature .
In the story of
Oleg of Novgorod
European Fairy Tales
Many fairy tales, such as The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs , The Fish and the Ring , The Story of Three Wonderful Beggars , or The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate , revolve about a prophecy that a poor boy will marry a rich girl (or, less frequently, a poor girl a rich boy). This is story type 930 in the Aarne–Thompson classification scheme. The girl's father's efforts to prevent it are the reason why the boy ends up marrying her.
Another fairy tale occurs with older children. In The Language of the Birds , a father forces his son to tell him what the birds say: that the father would be the son's servant. In The Ram , the father forces his daughter to tell him her dream: that her father would hold an ewer for her to wash her hands in. In all such tales, the father takes the child's response as evidence of ill-will and drives the child off; this allows the child to change so that the father will not recognize his own offspring later and so offer to act as the child's servant.
In some variants of Sleeping Beauty , such as Sun, Moon, and Talia , the sleep is not brought about by a curse, but a prophecy that she will be endangered by flax (or hemp) results in the royal order to remove all the flax or hemp from the castle, resulting in her ignorance of the danger and her curiosity.
The later prophecy by the first apparition of the witches that
Similar to Oedipus above, a more modern example would be Darth Vader in the Star Wars films, or Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise and the Big Three in Percy Jackson -webkit-column-width: 21em; column-width: 21em;">
Cognitive behavioral therapy
* ^ Merton, Robert K. (1948), "The Self Fulfilling Prophecy",
Antioch Review, 8 (2 (Summer)): 195, ISSN 0003-5769 , doi
:10.2307/4609267 , retrieved May 4, 2014
* ^ Darley, John M.; Gross, Paget H. (2000), "A
Hypothesis-Confirming Bias in Labelling Effects", in Stangor, Charles,
Stereotypes and prejudice: essential readings,
Psychology Press, p.
212, ISBN 978-0-86377-589-5 ,
* ^ Popper, Karl (1976). Unended Quest: An Intellectual
Autobiography. LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court. ISBN 978-0-87548-343-6 .
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TIME TRAVEL CLAIMS AND URBAN LEGENDS
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