Lesson 8: Breaking The Negative Self Fulfilling Prophecy

The Self Fulfilling Prophecy is a sociological term used to describe a prediction that causes itself to become true. Thus, the process by which a persons expectations about someone or an event can lead that person to behave in ways that confirm those expectations. In 1948, Robert K. Merton coined the term self-fulfilling prophecy to describe “a false definition of the situation evoking a behavior which makes the originally false conception come true” (Merton, 1948, p. 477). In other words, a mis-representation of reality or guess at the truth that in turn caused behaviors that would end up making the hypothetical into an actual reality. Simply put, a false reality could actually become truth due to human psychological responses to predictions, fears, and worries associated with the future.

An example of this is the placebo effect. In this case a person experiences a beneficial outcome because even though they were given an inactive substance or treatment, they believed it would work even though it has no known medical effect. This can also be seen when a teacher holds certain expectations for students. Through social interaction the student is then lead to behave in such a manner that confirms the originally false expectations.

As we can see, there are two forms of self-fulfilling prophecies: Those which are self-imposed prophecies that occur due to our own expectations that influence our actions, and those imposed by others, such as others opinions we value, that occur and thus influence our behavior. Additionally, the Pygmalion effect is a type of other-imposed self-fulfilling prophecy that explains that the way we treat someone has a direct impact on how that person acts. If another person thinks something will happen, they may consciously or unconsciously. make it taken through their actions or inaction.

This evident relationships between our expectations and the reality that unfolds has significant implications for the future. So, how are some ways we can break the cycle of the negative self-fulfilling prophecy and create a positive one?

One suggestion is to first become aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy. This knowledge of how our expectations can impact our behaviors and that of those around us is fundamental to our self-awareness and thus ability to change it. Second is to actually change our beliefs. Most important is our self-talk and how we think about ourselves. Replacing negative self-talk with objectively more accurate expectations is a great way to shift perspective. Then, by practicing more positive self talk and being optimistic about ourselves and our performance. Through this our self-esteem improves are we begin to focus to who we want to be and what we want to do, rather than simply our current situations. Lastly, sometimes we may need to just fake it until we make it. In the beginning it may be difficult to make a change in thinking, but as we practice positive thinking, our behavior will change as well (N, 2019).


Merton, R. K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecyThe Antioch Review, 8(2), 193-210.

N., J. (2019, April 25). The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: You Create Your Future. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://nobelcoaching.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/

1 comment

  1. Hello,

    The topic you chose to cover in your blog post is actually a topic I am pretty passionate about. I personally have a lot of experience around discussions focusing on the self fulfilling prophecy, and I definitely see this phenomenon in my own life.

    I like how you brought up the placebo effect and how that could be considered a self fulfilling prophecy in a way because people believe that something is helping them when in reality, this is not really the case. “…some placebo effects die out over time, as expectations fail to be corroborated by external events — but others self-perpetuate, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies,” (Wagner, 2017). But what causes the perpetuation of certain placebos over others if none of them actually work? I guess it’s all up to the specific person who is experiencing it.

    Another huge aspect to the self fulfilling prophecy that has become a lot more popular recently is the idea of manifestation. Manifestation is pretty similar to the self fulfilling prophecy because you are basically putting out “positive energy into the universe” so you will get it back in something you want to happen in your life. An example of this would be to continuously tell yourself “I will get the job, and it will bring me financial stability”. You write this down, say it in the mirror every morning, and make yourself believe that it will happen so much that it ends up actually happening. Although these concepts are similar, the thing that separates them is the idea that the self-fulfilling prophecy focuses on stereotypes, which could be both negative or positive (Berry, 2013). When manifesting, there must be no negative thoughts on the thing you are trying to manifest and bring to life.

    My question to you is, do you believe that the self fulfilling prophecy and/or manifestation could actually work? Have you used these ideas in your own life?

    Berry, W. (2013, December 01). You, And The Manifesting Of Reality. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-second-noble-truth/201312/you-and-the-manifesting-reality

    Wagner, T. D. (2017, January 20). Brain Institute. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://www.braininstitute.pitt.edu/event/placebos-expectations-and-self-fulfilling-prophecies

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