Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Key Principles:

  • We form certain expectations of people or events
  • We communicate those expectations with various cues.
  • People tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them.
  • The result is that the original expectation becomes true.
  • This creates a circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Consciously or not we tip people off as what our expectations are. We exhibit thousands of cues, some as subtle as the tilting of heads, the raising of eye brows or the dilation of nostrils, but most are much more obvious. And people pick up on those cues.

    In 1968, in a classic experiment, Robert Rosenthal, a professor of social psychology at Harvard, and Lenore Jacobson worked with elementary school children from 18 classrooms. They randomly chose 20% of the children from each room and told the teachers they were "intellectual bloomers."

    They explained that these children could be expected to show remarkable gains during the year. The experimental children showed average IQ gains of two points in verbal ability, seven points in reasoning and four points in over all IQ. The "intellectual bloomers" really did bloom.

    How teachers communicate expectations
  • Seating low expectation students far from the teacher and/or seating them in a group
  • Paying less attention to lows in academic situations (smiling less often, maintaining less eye contact, etc.)
  • Calling on lows less often to answer questions or to make public demonstrations
  • Waiting less time for lows to answer questions
  • Not staying with lows in failure situations (e g. providing fewer clues, asking fewer follow-up questions)
  • Criticizing lows more frequently than highs for incorrect responses
  • Praising lows less frequently than highs after successful responses
  • Praising lows more frequently than highs for marginal or inadequate responses
  • Providing lows with less accurate and less detailed feedback than highs
  • Failing to provide lows with feedback about their responses as often as highs
  • Demanding less work and effort from lows than from highs
  • Interrupting lows more frequently than highs