Post No.: 0207
A ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ places a label upon another person, or upon oneself, and in turn leads them, or one, directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, to act in a way that supports and reinforces this label. The person will end up believing in this label placed upon him/her and therefore start behaving according to this belief as if it is a persistent character trait of his/hers, which in turn reinforces his/her belief that the label is correct (e.g. a person labelled as ‘likeable’ behaving likeably, which will also mean that more people will find this person likeable too, which in turn makes this person continue to want to behave socially likeably). It occurs due to the positive feedback loop between belief and behaviour.
The ‘Pygmalion effect’ occurs when the greater the expectation is placed upon someone the better they’ll tend to perform, because of the self-fulfilling prophecy effect and/or the way that others may end up treating this person via their responses, input, support, opportunities, quality of feedback and the way they shape the environment towards or for this person to achieve this goal (e.g. believing that one’s child will be great at sports, and then buying him/her lots of sports-related toys and playing more physically active games with him/her, which in turn will make him/her actually become a better sports player). The ‘Golem effect’ is the opposite effect, when low expectations are placed upon someone then they perform worse.
‘Behavioural confirmation’ is similar, whereby our social expectations lead us to behave in ways that cause others to confirm our expectations (e.g. two people may be attracted to each other deep inside but each presumes the other person isn’t interested so they both act cool to avoid feeling rejected, and thus decide that the other person’s coolness confirms their presumption that the other person is not interested).
So we often get what we expect from others. When we, for instance, hold preconceptions, prejudices, assumptions or stereotypes about others (which are often based on rumours rather than evidence) then these can potentially grow and perpetuate due to our own confirmation biases (in this context, interpreting another person’s ambiguous behaviours as confirming one’s preconceptions), as well as by setting self-fulfilling prophecies in the people we prematurely judge. Self-fulfilling prophecies can also even mean that, since one is already going to be presumed as guilty before a crime has been committed, one might as well commit a crime (e.g. a child might as well behave badly if he/she has already been labelled and treated as a misbehaving child). Post No.: 0173 explored how the very names we give to our children might potentially create self-fulfilling prophecies too.
These stereotypes or prejudgements can also be hard to shift, just like other types of beliefs are hard to shift; and a culture can collectively lazily perpetuate such stereotypes or prejudgements regarding entire groups via the media too. Inaccurate stereotypes, preconceived fears, premature judgements, automatic cynicism, rumours and trusting in hunches, rather than placing trust in hard and unambiguous evidence on a case-by-case basis, can be some of the most pernicious things humans do.
If we think our partner may be cheating on us and other pessimistic expectations (without having found unambiguous evidence to prove it) then we might actually be revealing our own lack of love and commitment for them. This pessimism will make us respond less lovingly towards our partner and in how we interpret ambiguous events, which in turn will affect the way our partner responds back to us, which will ultimately confirm the breakdown of the relationship. Or if we assume another person will be aggressively obstinate, then we may start on an aggressive foot towards them, and when the other person sees us behaving aggressively towards them, they’ll behave aggressively towards us too, and then we may see this as ‘proof’ that we were right about their aggressive tendencies from the start – when it could’ve been that our own behaviour and actions created a self-fulfilling outcome. This can have wider and lasting effects on society if we routinely prejudge strangers, members of outgroups or ‘people who don’t look like us’ with hostility or suspicion. Expect the worst in others and we’ll likely receive the worst!
So it’s wiser to expect other people who you don’t quite know yet to be nice to you. Expect the best in others because that way they will more likely behave the way you want them to behave. Have positive expectations in your mind regarding how you’ll interact with others and turn the self-fulfilling prophecy to your advantage! Just sit down and talk with people and expect them to be pleasant, friendly and helpful. Expect your interactions with people to go well. Everyone should be assumed as good unless proven otherwise. Trust in the best in humankind. Be friendly and nice to strangers and they will tend to respond in furry kind to you!
Expect your interactions with others to be enjoyable, interesting, lucky, fruitful, happy and successful before you contact or meet them (even when you call customer services about a complaint – the agent who picks up your call will likely be someone unfamiliar with your case and will be more willing to help a reasonable and polite person). Focus on the person and believe they will be positive towards you and will say the right things to you. Positive expectations motivate the best in people (e.g. don’t automatically assume a new employee will be work-shy because you purport to know ‘their sort of people’ – that hardly motivates them to care to work hard). So expect others to be productive and competent. Expect your meetings to be successful and profitable.
It might not work but you’ll have given it the best chance of bringing the best out from others – or really in many cases – you’ll have given yourself the best chance of bringing the best out from yourself regarding how you’ll behave towards others, which in turn will encourage them to treat you well in return. This is because when we label or prejudge other people with positive attributes, we will subconsciously or consciously treat them with positivity, and vice-versa (e.g. we’re less likely to smile at someone we’ve prejudged as unfriendly and so why would they want to smile back at you?) The other party will subconsciously or consciously pick up on your behaviour and reciprocate.
Also, never judge yourself as anything negative regarding anything that matters, especially based on how you think you look in the mirror (e.g. thinking that you’re no good for anyone or anything because of the way you look), otherwise you may go down the subconscious route of self-fulfilling your own stifling prophecies. People with anorexia, as well as those who are obese, and everyone else inbetween, should ignore the mirror and start to focus on what matters and what’s real i.e. what’s inside and how they ultimately perform. We can criticise our behaviours (e.g. that we didn’t put in enough effort to eat more healthily over the past few years) but we shouldn’t label ourselves with traits as if they’re permanent and cannot be changed through a change in behaviours (e.g. that we’re ugly). Don’t label yourself as someone who cannot do something when you haven’t even tried it (and tried it again).
Now this doesn’t mean arrogantly fantasising and labelling yourself as ‘the best salesperson in the world’ when you’re not, for instance(!) It largely means avoiding placing generalised labels on people altogether. Even a positive label can sometimes be harmful – if someone doesn’t match up to it then it can make them feel like a failure and that’ll dent their (fraudulent or delusional) self-concept. It could also make someone bigheaded or incentivise them to cheat in order to maintain the label and public reputation. Some things are down to environmental or external factors rather than what a person can realistically do in that environment so we cannot always control our own outcomes – but we can control our own efforts and that’s what needs to be identified and praised.
Woof! I will admit that it can be a very difficult habit to break but, whether positive or negative, try to judge and label the behaviour rather than the person.