June 23, 2020

Self-fulfilling prophecies in children’s life


Teachers’ and parents’ expectations can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Robert Merton first mentioned the term self-fulfilling prophecy in 1948. A self-fulfilling prophecy is the sociopsychological phenomenon of someone “predicting” or expecting something, and this “prediction” or expectation coming true simply because the person believes it will (Biggs, 2013). A self-fulfilling prophecy is applicable to either negative or positive outcomes.

The Pygmalion study (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968) was the first research to provide evidence of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the context of school. Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) experimented at an elementary school where students took intelligence pre-tests. Rosenthal and Jacobsen then informed the teachers of the names of twenty percent of the students in the school who were showing unusual potential for intellectual growth and would bloom academically within the year. Unknown to the teachers, these students were selected randomly with no relation to the initial test. When Rosenthal and Jacobson tested the students several months later, they discovered that the randomly selected students who teachers thought would bloom scored significantly higher. According to Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968), teacher’s expectations may produce self-fulfilling prophecies. Their study has demonstrated that the expectations of others can positively or negatively affect reality. Several studies, afterwards agree that teacher expectancy effects exist (Jussim et al., 2009; Wang, Rubie-Davies, & Meissel, 2018). Over the years, research has shown that, if educators were led to expect enhanced results from students, then the student’s results were enhanced and vice versa.

Self-fulfilling prophecy has many applications in our daily lives. Human beings tend to meet the expectations of others and to adapt to what others expect from them, particularly when it comes to people who have a significant role in their lives (such as parents, teachers and friends). Parents’ expectations of their children affect the children’s performance. Parents may subconsciously behave in ways that facilitate and encourage the children’s present and future success. Teachers’ and parents’ achievement expectations can thus affect children’s development and learning from the first days onward, as well as affecting later achievements and eventual outcomes. Low expectations can hamper ‘children’s learning, whereas high expectations can foster ‘children’s learning and eventually lead to higher achievement gains. Their beliefs can easily influence people, or someone else’s statements and predictions, even if they are wrong positively or negatively.

If you think negatively about yourself, your personality and actions, then you might be trapped to the self-fulfilling prophecy. You may project and thereby reinforce whatever habits and thoughts are aligned with your beliefs. Can you imagine what will happen to students just before an important exam, if they believe that they will fail or if their parents or teachers continuously remind them that they will not succeed? But why does the Pygmalion effect occur? If you believe your students or children are lazy, unable to learn or with low abilities, you may be inclined to teach simplify material, give simple tasks, do not challenge them, calling for simplistic behaviours and answers.

How can we avoid the trap of self-fulfilling prophecy?  How can we positively apply self-fulfilling prophecy, either you are a parent or a teacher or a student? First, learn to think positively about yourself and avoid predictions. Second, even if something did not go well or as planned, doesn’t mean that it will not go well in the future. Mistakes shouldn’t be seen as failures, but as learning opportunities, challenges for improvement and development. Third, you should avoid labels, and general expressions in your life, such as you can’t achieve very much”, “you are not too bright”, “you are slow”. Self-fulfilling prophecies are one of the main contributions to racial prejudice and discriminations. This led to the conclusion that positive thinking and encouragement, even when everything seems to be going wrong can be the key to high achievements. “Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success” (Joyce Brothers).