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Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and Communication
Does the full moon really effect one's behavior? Does Friday the 13th really deserve extra precaution? Is a Harvard professor wiser than say an Appalachian hermit? Or is someone who abandons their life of wealth and fame, suffering from mental illness? Is one race or gender more adept at a particular profession than another? There is no scientific evidence that proves the full moon has any effect on a person's personality or behavior, yet those in law enforcement and the medical profession often say that crime, accidents, and psychotic behavior are higher during the full moon, moreover, many people say they feel more anxious or nervous during a full moon. Henry David Thoreau lived in the woods for several years, St. Francis of Assisi abandoned his wealth and military position for a life of poverty, and many people regard Friday 13th as a lucky day. Self-fulfilling prophecies are as old as communication itself. Myths and lore have been passed down throughout history to justify and explain human behavior or environmental events. Moreover, self-fulfilling prophecies laced with bias and prejudice have historically formed and shaped cultures and societies.
For good or bad, humans respond to external expectations. If a person is told daily that he is ugly, more than likely that person is going to feel ugly, no matter how physically attractive he may be. What if someone is introduced as a genius, might others heed his words as wisdom? And if the same person is introduced as a lunatic, isn't it likely his words will be seen as mere gibberish?
There is no doubt that self-fulfilling prophecies effect communication and self-esteem, but what exactly are self-fulfilling prophecies and what are the negative and positive effects?
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prophecy about a future event that serves to increase the probability of the event's occurrence" (Hurley 1997). "One's beliefs about other people determine how one acts towards them, and thus play a role in determining the behavior that results" (Self-fulfilling 2001). The first to recognize and analyze self-fulfilling prophecies as a societal phenomenon was sociologist R.K. Merton in 1948. Psychologists began looking at "self-fulfilling prophecies in terms of interaction effects or interpersonal expectancy effects" (Hurley 1997). In the 1960's Rosenthal and Jacobson researched self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom, discovering that teachers' expectations of certain students could influence student performance (Hurley 1997). In one of the best known studies, "teachers were told (falsely) that certain students in their class were "bloomers" on the verge of dramatic intellectual development" (Self-fulfilling 2001). Eight months later, when the students were tested, the bloomer labeled students outperformed the other students, thus fulfilling the prediction made about them. The teachers had behaved toward those particular students in ways that encouraged and facilitated their intellectual development, such as setting higher goals for them, and giving them extra attention and support (Self-fulfilling 2001). Another experiment included a group of men who conversed by telephone with a group of women after seeing what they were told were pictures of their perspective partners. The women who were supposed to be attractive were considered by the men to be more interesting and intelligent. The men's own behavior had been more genial toward the women they thought were attractive, thus, drawing "livelier responses" than the men who believed that their partners were unattractive (Self-fulfilling 2001). Stereotyping, whether racial, ethnic, or gender, can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies if those of that group are discouraged from ambitious goal setting due to others' low expectations of them. Self-fulfilling prophecies can effect a person's own behavior due to his own belief about himself. Someone who believes he will succeed at a particular task, will generally be more successful than someone who believes he will fail (Self-fulfilling 2001). "Because of the potential harm to participants, researchers of self-fulfilling prophecies do not usually study negative prophecies" (Hurley 1997).
There are two types of self-fulfilling prophecies. One type is the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect occurs when one person has expectations of another and behaves toward that person in a manner consistent with those expectations" (Hurley 1997). Thus, the 'prophet's own behavior change influences the occurrence of change in the other's behavior. "The other type of self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when a prophecy is made and people autonomously change their behavior to agree with the prophecy" (Hurley 1997). To demonstrate this type of self-fulfilling prophecy, Merton used the example of a bank failure. If depositors believe a bank is in trouble, they withdraw their money and cause the bank to go under. There is no need for an interpersonal influence with this type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Behavior of a single prophet did not affect the depositors, they acted independently. "Research has shown that self-fulfilling prophecies exist regardless of whether the prophecies have a factual basis or are deliberately falsified" (Hurley 1997).
The combination of interaction rules, the personalities of the people who are interacting, and the settings and the purpose of their interactions affects not only each person's perception of the other and of self but also the outcomes of the interaction, including the likelihood of future interactions. Given the importance of these outcomes, people have learned to make use of cues that may signal the likely course of interaction. Among these cues are the expectations with which people begin their interactions with others, expectations about what will be required of them and expectations about how their interaction partners will act. Indeed, these preconceived expectations, and those informed immediately on beginning interaction, can channel our thought and behavior toward others before they have a chance to provide any behavioral basis for our impressions" (Snyder 1999).
Self-fulfilling prophecies exists everywhere in daily life, whether intentional or not. Stereotyping is a common form of self-fulfilling prophecies and can have positive and negative effects. Referred to as the 'model minority,' Asian-Americans are generally profiled as an affluent and educated group, working in managerial and professional occupations (Taylor 1997).
This stereotyping is fueled by demographic profiles of Asian-Americans as hard-working, serious, technically competent, mathematically skilled, and well assimilated (Taylor 1997). This 'model minority' image may seem to be one that would have a positive effect on Asia-Americans as a whole, however, it comes at a price.
A study, 1996, reported that both high and low achieving Asian students suffered from anxiety due to the stress and pressure of the model minority expectations. Students who were not academic achievers experienced depression, and sadly were too embarrassed to seek help due to their 'model' image (Kim 2002). Asian-American students are typically seen as over-achievers, geniuses, competitive, nerdy, and obedient. This stereotyping has led educational communities to neglect student services and support for the many students who are undereducated and live in low economic status (Kim 2002). Whether male or female, student or adult, the "workaholic" stereotype of Asian-Americans, de-individuates all members of the group, those who rebel as well as those who conform (Taylor 1997). Many believe that minorities behave to the expectations established, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stereotyping Asian-Americans as technologically gifted actually does harm by working against the assimilation of nonconformists, such as artists and others disinterested in math or science, into society (Taylor 1997). The stress of academic achievement is crippling many Asian-American students. This "model image" often draws jealousy and resentment towards all Asian-American students, whether they are academically brilliant or not. Moreover, it causes teachers to over look the very real fact that not all Asian-American students are mathematical geniuses. Thus, due to these set expectations, the under-achievers are often too embarrassed to seek help, not wanting to dispel the myth. Thus, this positive stereotype of smart and successful generally offends both conformist and nonconformist Asian-Americans, because it ignores individual variability (Taylor 1997).
What about self-fulfilling prophecies and communication within the work place environment? When an employee fails or performs poorly, a manager might assume that the employee doesn't understand the work or lacks ambition and priorities. Managers seldom blame themselves, placing the responsibility on the employee. Perceiving the problem as an employee's shortcomings, the boss may increase the time and attention on the employee, requiring him to get approval before making decisions, asking for paperwork documenting decisions, or watching the employee at meetings and critiquing comments more intensely (Barsoux 1998). Actions intended to boost performance and prevent errors are often interpreted by the employee as lack of trust and confidence. Eventually, due to the low expectations, the employee comes to doubt his own thinking and ability, thus, losing the motivation to make autonomous decisions or take any action at all (Barsoux 1998). The boss then sees the employee actions as proof that he was indeed a poor performer, and may actually increase his pressure and supervision, causing the employee to give-up completely. The boss may then view the employee as a time-consuming failure and fire him, or the employee may quit. This set-up-to-fail syndrome is both self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing. "It is the quintessential vicious circle" (Barsoux 1998).
The process is self-fulfilling because the boss's actions contribute to…[continue]
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