Self-fulfilling prophecy makes it come true

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How self-fulfilling prophecies can affect other people's behavior

The principle of self-fulfilling prophecies has long been known in psychology. It says that assumptions about other people are mostly true. This is less because we have clairvoyant abilities and more because we base our behavior on expectations. An American doctor was able to demonstrate this effect in his study. Men who believed they had a low risk of heart attack were three times less likely than others to experience it - regardless of whether they actually had a lower or an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

How self-fulfilling prophecies can increase intelligence The psychological principle of self-fulfilling prophecies has been proven since the mid-twentieth century. Accordingly, assumptions about other people influence their behavior. Because the behavior is largely based on expectations. The American psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Leonore Jacobson conducted an interesting experiment in 1965, in which they demonstrated the causality of expectations and behavior. The psychologists examined the teacher-student interactions at two primary schools. The Oak School was in a working class neighborhood. About a sixth of the students were of Mexican descent. The school system of the public Oak School was based on a three-way division, according to which the students were taught in a fast, medium or slow learning train.

The Crest School was mostly attended by white middle and upper class students. Students had an average IQ of 109, while the Oak School had an average IQ of 98. In the fast-learning train of the Oak School, the children also had an IQ of 109.

At both schools, teachers were faked to take a scientific test with their students to identify the children who have great intellectual development potential. The teachers were then told that 20 percent of the students were on the brink of an intellectual development spurt. In reality, however, the children were chosen arbitrarily, so that the special talent only existed in the consciousness of the teachers.

After one year the children were examined again. It turned out that the children who had previously been presented to the teachers as particularly intelligent had increased their IQ much more than the ordinary children. The largest increases in IQ were measured among the middle school students at the Oak School. 45 percent of the “gifted” children were able to increase their IQ by 20 or more points. This effect was particularly significant for students in the first and second year of school. 20 percent of the “gifted” even increased their IQ by 30 or more points. The teachers judged the characters of the clever students more positively than those of the other children, had more patience with them and paid more attention to them. According to the study, the performance of the randomly selected pupils improved significantly due to the expectations of the teachers.

Self-fulfilling prophecies influence heart attack risk The relationship between expectations and behavior is also proven by other studies. Assumptions or expectations of other people or yourself become true over time because the behavior is subconsciously based on them. The effect can be both positive, as the experiment by Rosenthal and Jacobson shows, as well as negative.

Robert Gramling of the University of Rochester, New York, had shown in his study that the assumption of a low risk of heart attacks in men actually caused them to have a heart attack three times less often. The risk that actually exists from a medical point of view apparently played a subordinate role.

If doctors had predicted a particularly high risk of heart attacks for the study participants, the study result could also have been the opposite, because self-fulfilling prophecies also work in the other, negative direction. For this reason, studies are usually carried out “double-blind”, so that neither the scientists nor the test subjects know who is receiving the real treatment and who is receiving a placebo. This ensures that study results are not influenced by the expectations of those involved. (sb)

Image: Gerd Altmann / Background: Hans Braxmeier /

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Video: Globular - A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


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