What is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

by Anthony Carter on March 18, 2011


A self-fulfilling prophecy is an important idea in psychology because it makes that claim that our predictions about the future might actually influence what happens. To be more precise it means that by just believing that something is going to happen in the future then this could actually cause it to happen. The psychological reason for why a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs is due to a positive feedback effect of belief on our behavior. This theory has implications for how humans because it means that we could think ourselves into failure or disaster.

How Does a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Work?

A self-fulfilling prophecy is not only about our own predictions about the future but on the expectations that other people have on us. If a teacher believes that a child is not very intelligent it could have consequences; their behavior towards the student might actually cause the student to perform badly in school. This is because if other people treat us as if we are stupid we will tend to start behaving this way.

Research has been conducted which supports this idea that the views of the teacher will impact how the students perform. One of the most famous studies of this kind was conducted by Rosental et al (1968); they demonstrated how encouraging teachers to believe that certain students were less intelligent would impact how that student would perform in an exam – this is often referred to as the Pygmalion effect. The implication of all of this is that how influential people like teachers view us may be as important to our success as our actual abilities.

The self-fulfilling prophecy isn’t just about education but can occur in any aspect of life. If we don’t expect certain people to like us then we could cause this to occur because of our own behavior – we might feel that our prediction has been proved but it is actually us that caused it to occur. If we expect to be fired from our job then our behavior consequently could lead us into a situation where this does indeed happen. If we wake up one morning believing that we are going to have an accident then our actions because of this belief could cause an accident to occur. The implications of the self-fulfilling prophecy are endless.

The Importance of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

An understanding of self-fulfilling prophecies is important if we want to improve our own life and not negatively impact the lives of other people. It shows us the importance of how we should treat other people and warns of us of how our own beliefs can get us into a lot of trouble. It also tells us the importance of not labeling children as less intelligent than others because just believing this could in fact cause it to occur. The idea of self-fulfilling prophecy has also become very important for our understanding of medical conditions both mental and physical; for example, our expectations about pain might have a huge influence on the amount of pain we experience.

Share This Article:

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: