Self fulfilling prophecy examples in relationships

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy | Psychology Today

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Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when our beliefs influence our behaviors. An example of this would be if we predict that we will fail at a certain task, such as giving a speech and subsequently wind up stumbling through it. In such a situation, our belief seems to get the best of us, and we act in ways that affirm it.

The Relationship Component

Research has also tied the self-fulfilling prophecy to relationships. Our expectations about the successes and failures in our relationships can influence their outcomes. Downey, Freitas, Michaelis, and Khouri (1998) carried out two studies to determine if people’s expectations of rejection would prompt them to behave in ways that lead to the demise of these relationships. The authors were also interested in how self-fulfilling prophecy affects people who score high in rejection sensitivity (RS).

In their first study, members of couples recorded their cognitions, affects, behaviors, and conflicts in daily diary entries. A total of 108 heterosexual couples who had been dating for at least six months were used for this study. Diary analysis was carried out for the 58 couples who completed the study and filled out entries for four weeks. One year after the study, all of the original couples were contacted again for a follow-up to see if they had broken up.

Participants were initially given a demographic questionnaire, the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire, and measures of relationship satisfaction and commitment. Results demonstrated that 44 percent percent of couples that included a woman who was high in rejection sensitivity (HRS) had broken up at the one-year follow-up, compared to 15 percent of couples that included a woman who was low in rejection sensitivity (LRS) (Downey et al., 1998).

With regard to men, 42 percent of couples that included a man high in rejection sensitivity broke up at the one-year mark, whereas 15 percent of couples with a man low in rejection sensitivity broke up. Downey et al. (1998) reported that “the effect of people’s RS on breakup remained significant when their partners’ RS, relationship satisfaction, and commitment assessed prior to beginning the diary study were statistically controlled” (p. 549). The researchers also found out that the couples that broke up were more dissatisfied at the daily level over the course of the study.

Downey et al. (1998) also examined if reports of relationship satisfaction and desire to end the relationship were related to reports of conflict that occurred during the previous day, and if satisfaction and desire to break up were related to rejection sensitivity. While nothing was shown for the men, there was a significant difference among the women. Partners of women who were high in rejection sensitivity differed from the partners of those low in rejection sensitivity on days that were preceded by conflict. The partners of those women high in RS reported more dissatisfaction and were much more likely to think about ending the relationship the day after the conflict. Women who were high in rejection sensitivity were also much less likely to view their partners as accepting the day after conflict than those low in RS. Overall, the authors found that rejection sensitivity was a self-fulfilling prophecy in that it predicted breakup. Of course, this is because they were in high conflict situations that activated their expectations.

Downey et al. (1998) note, “that naturally occurring conflicts triggered a process through which women’s rejection expectancies led to their partners’ rejecting responses, operationalized as partner-reported relationship dissatisfaction and thoughts of ending the relationship. Both of these indexes of rejection predicted breakup for men and for women” (p. 553). A noteworthy limitation was the self-report nature of the diaries. Additionally, perceptions were not assessed immediately after the conflict so the male responses the day after the conflict are difficult to clearly understand.

In a follow-up study aimed at addressing the limitations of the first study, 39 college-aged exclusive couples participated and were videotaped. Results demonstrated that the partners of HRS and LRS women didn’t differ before the conflict but differed after the conflict. Specifically, partners of women high in rejection sensitivity were angrier about their relationships after the conflict. Interestingly, post-conflict, there was a nonsignificant increase in the anger of the male partners of HRS women, but a significant decline in the partners of LRS women. The HRS women were also shown to behave more negatively during the conflict.

Caution must be taken when interpreting the study in that perceptions were explored, not actual behaviors. In addition, results demonstrated that the expectations of HRS women led to the relationship ending as a result of less satisfaction and commitment on the part of their partners. However, the actual nature in which the relationships ended was not explored. For example, the authors note that the HRS women may have become so dissatisfied with the accumulation of perceived rejection that they ended the relationship, or that they ended the relationship preemptively to avoid perceived rejection (Downey et al. , 1998).

Despite the limitations, the study did show that expectations of rejection led to the demise of the relationships. Therefore, expectations had the power to alter reality.

How to Stop Pessimistic Self-Fulfilling Prophecies from Shaping Your Life

You believe that you’ll never have a healthy relationship, so you pick partners who are unavailable. You believe you’ll bomb the presentation, so you don’t practice. You believe you’re going to have a frustrating day, so you’re snippy with your spouse, which triggers a fight, which makes you miss your train, which makes you late for work. You believe you’ll have a bad time at a party, so you don’t talk to anyone. Others perceive you as cold and aloof, and don’t approach you either.

These are different examples of the same thing: self-fulfilling prophecies.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is when you think something will happen, and then you make it happen. “We imagine one of many outcomes, and then we consciously or unconsciously make the outcome a reality,” said Ryan Howes, Ph. D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, Calif.

He worked with a woman who worried her boyfriend was going to leave her. Every day she’d ask him if he was going to break up with her. She’d pen letters about her fear. She’d worry that he didn’t care about her whenever his attention was on someone else in a social interaction.

And she was right. He ended up breaking up with her — because of her behavior.

“He really did love her, but this constant paranoia and insecurity made the relationship unbearable to him,” Howes said. He ended the relationship, “in the most honest, kind way he could. But for her this was a fulfilled prophecy.”

Often self-fulfilling prophecies are an attempt to guard against grief, failure, disappointment, rejection or any other upsetting outcome. It’s an attempt to “pre-grieve something,” Howes said. “We have a belief that if we see something failing now and start grieving that loss before it happens, it won’t hurt so much.”

But that’s rarely the case. “A loss is a loss.” Trying to grieve before a supposedly painful outcome doesn’t reduce our pain. It only creates more of it. And we grieve just the same as if we’d expected success, Howes said.

“Life becomes a series of negative expectations or experiences, and who benefits from that?” Plus, Howes said, a negative mindset deprives us of a vital human experience: hope.

Becoming Aware and Looking for Themes

The first step in stopping self-fulfilling prophecies from shaping your life is to become aware of them. This sounds easy enough, but often our own patterns are obscure to us. This is why seeing a therapist can help.

“That’s a lot of my job as a therapist, identifying and exploring themes in my clients’ lives,” said Howes, who pens the blog In Therapy. “They become incredibly obvious to me, but when I point it out to the client, many times they’ve never even considered it before.”

For instance, one client was surprised to hear Howes say that he seemed to be looking for a bully to defeat. The client believed he always avoided conflict.

To sharpen your awareness, Howes suggested looking at themes in your life. There might be a common thread that weaves through your work history or your relationships. “These patterns might highlight both your areas of difficulty and the situations you gravitate toward.”

For instance, do high-pressure situations overwhelm you? Is it hard to have someone depend on you? Is it hard to reach out for help?

Self-fulfilling prophecies have deep roots. “I’ve found that we tend to gravitate toward unfinished business in our life,” Howes said. For instance, if you felt neglected as a child, you might seek out similar relationships today because you know what it feels like, and you know what to do, he said.

Self-fulfilling prophecies stem from a desire to rewrite our history and get it right today, he said. “We seek out an unavailable partner because it feels familiar and try to have a different outcome, where we are finally known and appreciated. ” However, what typically happens instead is that we’re back in the same situation, experiencing the same wounds.

In almost every couple Howes has worked with, the feelings they have toward their spouse are the same feelings they felt growing up in their family. They might feel ignored or unappreciated. They might feel deceived or disrespected.

However, because self-fulfilling prophecies run deep, there’s an opportunity to heal these wounds, he said.

To become more self-aware, Howes also suggested thinking about three main issues in your life right now. Can you remember a time you didn’t have these concerns? “If you can’t remember a time you weren’t stressed about money, you have a theme.”

Another option is to talk to your loved ones about the kind of person you were at a particular time in your life. Ask them what you were passionate about or motivated by, he said. You also can look at old journals or photo albums. “[A]sk yourself if there are any similarities between the problems you dealt with then and now.

The Freedom to Choose

Thankfully, you can break your patterns at any time. As Howes said, “we have the power to make different choices.”

He’s worked with many clients who realized they were seeking approval from a highly critical boss because of similar past experiences. Some left those jobs for companies that appreciate their work. Others developed different reactions to their boss. They found their voice and changed the outcome, he said.

In another example, once you know you’re seeking relationships with critical and distant people to rewrite an old script, you can have a different response toward a critical partner, Howes said. Or you can “be more open to receiving love from people who are willing and capable.”

Again, your “prophecy can change from an inevitability to a choice.” You have the power to stop rewriting old, unhealthy scripts and pen new stories.

Pessimist photo available from Shutterstock

What are self-fulfilling prophecies and how they affect your life

November 13 A life

Scientists call them self-fulfilling or self-fulfilling.

You can listen to the short version of the article. If it's more convenient for you, turn on the podcast.

What is a self-fulfilling prophecy

This is a psychological phenomenon when a person's prediction indirectly affects reality so that it eventually becomes true. For example, when a candidate is afraid that anxiety will interfere with his interview, and really fails the meeting because he is too nervous. nine0003

For the first time in science, this phenomenon was described in 1948 by the American sociologist Robert Merton. He worked on issues of discrimination and noticed that the victims of racism were more often those who initially believed that they would be attacked.

Merton's work was continued by psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Leonora Jacobson, who showed that a person can involuntarily realize not only his own, but also other people's expectations. In now classic experiments, they discovered and described the Pygmalion effect. Situations where high or low expectations lead to better or worse results, respectively. For example, Rosenthal and Jacobson found that the attitude of a teacher towards a student can affect student performance. nine0003

How much do self-fulfilling prophecies affect life

There is no consensus among scientists on this issue. Some are convinced that the role of self-fulfilling prophecies is very modest and exaggerated. Critics argue that the phenomenon does not always manifest itself. And sometimes a prediction is just the result of intelligent analysis. For example, a person can simply know himself well and therefore foresee his actions.

Proponent of this point of view, Professor of Rutgers Research University (USA) Lee Jassim believes that people have their own goals and motives and therefore are not so receptive to the expectations of others. However, he acknowledges that self-fulfilling prophecies can have a cumulative effect and ultimately have a significant impact on our minds and behaviors. nine0003

Other researchers note that in many areas of life, such as education and intergroup interactions, the role of self-fulfilling prophecies is great, and numerous experiments have confirmed their existence.

The power of self-fulfilling prophecies lies in the fact that they are able to create a vicious circle of thoughts and behavior. If a person believes in something, he will begin to make decisions in accordance with new beliefs. As a result, his behavior will change, which will affect the opinions of others. And already the attitude of strangers will strengthen the person's initial beliefs about himself, others or about the world. nine0003

In a similar way, people can perceive other people's attitudes. For example, if a child is constantly told that nothing sensible will come of him, then he can believe in this, stop doing “useless” studies and start to act like hooligans. His behavior will cause a response from those around him, which will only strengthen him in his belief that he is "stupid".

What exactly do self-fulfilling prophecies affect

In various areas of life.

For physical health

The negative effects of self-fulfilling prophecies are sometimes quite unexpected. For example, the fear of falls only increases their likelihood among the elderly.

Another common example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is the placebo effect. People may expect help from remedies that don't really work and actually feel better even though they've taken a pacifier.

Mental health

A depressed person may convince himself that no one needs him or that he has no friends. Believing this, it is easy to start avoiding communication or acting unfriendly, because you will not expect anything good from others. And in the end, such a person can really break ties with everyone. nine0003

By doing this, he, among other things, convinces other people of his unsociableness and unsociableness. All this will lead to the fact that they will really stop communicating with him, and he himself will be in an even deeper depression.


If one of the partners initially does not expect that the relationship will be serious, then he will behave accordingly. This can cause the second person to feel detached and doubtful. In this case, both people will begin to consider the relationship frivolous. As a result, the couple will really fall apart. nine0003

For productivity and efficiency

Those who doubt their own skills may inadvertently let themselves down. For example, spending less time on work because they are convinced that everything will end in failure. Why try then?

The same thing can happen to people who have been told that they are not capable of doing anything.

For success and achievement

In their experiment, Robert Rosenthal and Leonora Jacobson randomly divided students of one class into "gifted" and "ordinary". The researchers passed this information on to teachers. It turned out that the positive expectations of the teacher contributed to a significant improvement in IQ scores in "gifted" children compared to "ordinary" ones. Although there was virtually no difference between these groups at the beginning of the experiment. nine0003

On stereotypes

The effect of self-fulfilling prophecies is very important in understanding where prejudices come from. For example, a person may be sure that the representatives of some social or national group are not able to work well. Because of this, the entrepreneur is likely to deny employment to all members of this group or specifically look for flaws in the work that will confirm his prejudice.

Employees may feel that their work is not appreciated, and because of this, stop trying. This, in turn, will only reinforce the stereotypes of the boss. Or maybe the workers themselves will eventually begin to doubt their own abilities. nine0003

Perception of the environment

The same applies to communication. If you are convinced before the meeting that you are going to talk with an interesting person with a wealth of experience, you may be friendlier and more inquisitive than usual. This will allow the interlocutor to “open up”, and the conversation will really be useful and exciting. And your counterpart will confirm that you can keep the conversation going. That is, the prophecy will come true for both of you.

How to manage self-fulfilling prophecies

Although the negative impact of self-fulfilling prophecies is most often noticed, they can also bring benefits. Here's what you can do to make it happen.

Learn to deal with your own harmful thoughts

You need to change your behavior and thinking. Try to evaluate your own actions and work on correcting prejudices on your own. Try to understand the reasons for actions, think about how often you praise or scold yourself and what you pay attention to: your shortcomings or virtues. nine0003

If difficulties arise, it is worth contacting a specialist - a psychologist or psychotherapist. This is where cognitive behavioral therapy can help.

Set yourself up for success

Try using the Pygmalion effect to your advantage. For example, it is known that if a manager expects an increase in the efficiency of employees, this can actually happen. Employees can understand that the boss is waiting for better results and believes that it is real, and therefore they will try harder. If you want a breakthrough, convince your subordinates of its possibility. nine0003

This effect also works in the opposite direction: when people expect something from the leader, he may begin to strive to meet these expectations. Perhaps your boss just doesn't know that you deserve a raise. You need to put this thought into his head, inadvertently mentioning your benefit to the team.

Believe in those you love

Self-fulfilling prophecies can not only destroy relationships, but also strengthen them. When a person is sure that he has found "that one" or "the one", he will try to make the relationship happy. Which will ultimately lead to this. So try to be less doubtful. This can give confidence to both you and your partner. nine0003

Think positively about other people

Positive expectations can work in all areas. A friendly attitude will make the interlocutor more polite, more accommodating and more sympathetic to you. And if you believe that it is not nationality, gender, age or belonging to a social group that determine the character and behavior of people, then there will be fewer reasons for prejudice.

Protect yourself from other people's negative thoughts

It is worth thinking about whose opinion you adhere to: your own or imposed? Try to convince yourself that if someone thinks badly of you, treats you with prejudice, or underestimates, this does not mean that there is really something wrong with you. nine0003

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Self-fulfilling prophecies

Read: 3 min.

New Year and Christmas is not only a time of holidays and joy. Since ancient times, the end of the outgoing year and the beginning of a new one are considered a special time for divination. Many interesting and fun traditions of our country are connected precisely with New Year's fortune-telling: Christmas fortune-telling, fortune-telling for Epiphany, making wishes to the sound of chimes. nine0003

Prophecy is a very interesting topic that has occupied the minds of mankind since the earliest history. Sometimes predictions promise us happiness and the fulfillment of our desires; such predictions are sometimes able to give us new strength. Making wishes can also be useful: after all, if we know what we want, it is much easier for us to achieve our goals. ( By the way: try to remember your wishes for the last New Year and assess how you managed to fulfill them). nine0113

But predictions can also be dangerous - even those that predict the fulfillment of our desires. We will talk about one of the varieties of dangerous predictions - perhaps the most popular - in this article.

"But you will receive death from your horse"

"The Song of the Prophetic Oleg" is a perfect example of the so-called self-fulfilling prophecy . Self-fulfilling prophecy is a term coined by American sociologist Robert Merton. Merton defined self-fulfilling prophecy as follows:
"A self-fulfilling prophecy is a false definition of a situation that causes new behavior that turns the original misconception into reality."

It is easy to see how this definition fits "song". Prophetic Oleg, having heard that he is destined to die from his war horse, sends the noble animal away from himself. After many years, he inquires about his horse and learns that he has long since died. Then Oleg goes to the remains of his animal. He stands on the horse's bones, makes a short speech; and at the same time a snake crawls out of the skull and stings the prince, thereby killing him. nine0009 Alexander Sergeevich cites this story as an amazing example of the power of prophecy. But, in fact, if Oleg had not heard this prophecy, he would hardly have specifically checked the bones of his horse, much less speak a long speech denouncing the sorcerer. If he had not undertaken to speak this speech, the snake would not have bitten him. Thus, we can say that the prince was not killed by the horse - he was killed by the snake and ... the prophecy he heard.

Robert Merton, the author of the concept, was hardly familiar with Pushkin's work; and if there was, it relied not on the "Song", but on the events that took place in the US economy in the 30s of the last century. As you know, those years became famous as one of the darkest periods of the "country of freedom": they are known as the Great Depression, and were accompanied by one of the strongest economic downturns in all of recent history. nine0009 At that time, many banks, including because of the not very thoughtful economic policy of the state, were ruined. Frightened depositors began to actively withdraw their deposits - and thereby ruined many banks, the position of which was quite stable, further worsening the economic situation and destroying the foundations for its recovery.

From this revealing story, the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” arose: banks that were financially prosperous went bankrupt due to the fact that people believed in their unreliability and imminent ruin. It was not the economic situation that brought their investors into distress - it was the behavior of people who believed in bankruptcy that ruined them. nine0003

Subsequently numerous studies confirmed the very real nature of self-fulfilling prophecies . It is worth mentioning some of them.

For example, it turns out that people who are credited with coldness in communication actually begin to show less warmth and friendliness (Ickes, Patterson, Rajecki & Tanford, 1982). Job applicants who are considered less suitable may actually begin to perform worse in interviews: it turns out that examiners, without realizing it, begin to ask them more complex and tricky questions (Word, Zanna & Cooper, 1974; Dipboye, 1982; Neuberg, 1989).

Self-fulfilling prophecies play a special role in school . Children who are considered more gifted by educators do indeed often get better grades—not because their abilities are really so far superior to those of their classmates, but rather because of the special attitude of teachers (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968; Harris & Rosenthal , 1985). I am sure that each of us can easily recall many reverse examples from our own lives. How often teachers are prejudiced against students whose behavior seems to them not up to certain standards! At times, children with an IQ slightly below 70 may outperform truly gifted students (IQs above 120) in academic achievement due to greater perseverance and a more respectful attitude towards the teacher. nine0003

It is also worth noting that there are certain differences in the effect of self-fulfilling prophecy on men and women . Research (Christiansen & Rosenthal, 1982; Nelson & Klutas, 2000) has shown that men are more likely to create self-fulfilling prophecies and women are more vulnerable to them. Scientists explained this difference by the fact that society prepares men more for control over the situation, and women for the ability to listen to other people's opinions. At least this is true for America; such large-scale studies in modern Russia have not yet been conducted. nine0003

Unfortunately, in the upbringing of children, especially if there are several of them in the family, one cannot do without such prophecies. Very often, parents' disbelief in the child's strengths - or, conversely, their belief that he has abilities that he really does not have - leads to sad results.

We, employees of the Humanitarian Technologies Center , come across such examples very often. Almost every day, children come to us, confident, for example, in their love for chemistry - and, therefore, wanting to take up work related specifically to chemistry. At the same time, during testing and counseling, it turns out that many of these children have neither love nor abilities for mathematics, analysis and information processing. Scientific or engineering work is impossible due to knowledge of chemistry alone: ​​it is also necessary to constantly record and analyze the results obtained (working with information and mathematics), to be well versed in physics, to be calm about monotonous sedentary work. As a rule, in such cases it turns out that love for chemistry is simply caused by a good relationship with the teacher.

Very often there are other situations. Parents from the threshold say that they have no idea what to do with their child - he is not suitable for anything, as it seems to them. However, when during the consultation and testing it turns out that the child has an excellent mathematical mind and excellent logical thinking , it turns out that in the previous school (where the teaching staff was more competent), the child studied well and with interest. It turns out that last year he was very successful with a tutor. At the same time, now, faced with constant condemnation and disbelief in his strength - both from teachers and from parents who mistakenly believed them - the child loses all desire to do anything.

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