The power of the self-fufilling Prophecy
Have you ever had a book or movie, article or anecdote inspire a wave of self-revelation? I think everyone experiences these unexpected epiphanies, and I’m sure most people would agree with me when I say how surprising it is where they lead you. Walking out of a movie with a friend tonight, we got around to exchanging fatalist philosophies and questions. These musings led me to, of course, a google search, and then to a study released a few years ago by the American Psychological Society, called “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: The Synergistic Accumulative Effect of Parents’ Beliefs on Children’s Drinking Behavior.”
The study involved 115 parents and their seventh-grade children. At the beginning of the year researchers administered a survey asking the parents what they predicted in terms of their children’s drinking patterns for the upcoming 12 months. After the year had passed they collected responses from the kids, asking about their drinking over that time period. Ultimately, the results showed that parents assessed the alcohol use beyond the predicted risk-factors- something that researchers identified as the self-fufilling prophecy effect.
Although the study was very narrow in it’s focus, the questions raised and the results found are incredibly applicable and thought-provoking. As it turned out, parents who overestimated their children’s drinking habits had the strongest self-fuffilling effect. By contrast, parents who underestimated their children’s drinking habits did not have as dramatic an effect. I think that many of us wonder, particularly at our age when there is such a heavy emphasis on our future, to what degree do our assertions alter the direction of our lives? What we do not always consider, and perhaps wrongly so, is the effect that other people’s expectations have on the decisions we make.
A review of the study suggested its implications in terms of the negative stereotypes that surround certain groups, particularly certain age groups such as adolescents. Although a certain behavior must initiate perceived characteristics, perhaps these stereotypes are as perpetuated by those who perceive certain individuals as they are by those individuals themselves. Perhaps the way we act at each stage of our lives is dictated not by free-will, but by a subliminal influence of those whose expectations we interact with on a day-to-day basis. If some behavior is expected of you by an overwhelming majority of people, even if it is negative, irrational, or irresponsible behavior, do you not, on some level, feel obligated to act accordingly?
I cannot think of a group of people to who this is more relevant. In college, we are exposed to so many conflicting expectations and standards. There are those of our parents, which by all means vary with each individual. There are those of our peers, which, again, when broken down, depend entirely on those friends we surround ourselves with. In a way, I think it is very much a domino effect; one action can attract attention from a certain kind of person, whose influence can lead to more actions, either of a similar or entirely different nature.
Not to freak anybody out, I know I get really overwhelmed as is, but I think it’s important to take a careful look at the environments we’re in, how the opinions of others influence our own priorities, and how these priorities, particularly at such a crucially developmental stage, might shape our futures. What do you guys think? Do you find yourself responding more to your own expectations or to those of the people in your life? At what point do you leave it all to chance, to your own self-fufilling prophecy, or to the prophecy of others? Just some food for thought; here’s the article if you’d like to read more! http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2005/pr050103.cfm