Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a prediction that becomes true as a consequence of having been made. In other words, the expectancy becomes a cause, so that what is expected comes true because it was expected. A self-fulfilling prophecy can be directed at oneself, another person, a group, or even inanimate objects. The process involves three steps:

1. An individual forms an expectation of a situation or target person

2. That individual’s expectations affect how he or she behaves in the situation or treats the target person

3. The situation or the target person is affected by that individual’s behavior in a way that validates the individual’s initial expectation

Therefore, if a teacher of a class predicts a fall in the students’ grades, then the prediction is likely to bring about a fall in the students’ grades irrespective of any other factors, because students will be more likely to perform poorly in the assessments. Hence, expecting a particular outcome from somebody will bring change in the behavior, and this, in turn, will influence other’s response which will ultimately reinforce the former’s behavior and that’s how self-fulfilling prophecy works.

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two girl bullying a fat child

Bullying Increases Likelihood of Adult Obesity, Study

It is well known that adolescent bullying can have enduring effects on a child’s psyche but a new study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity reveals that bullying can negatively impact children’s health in the long run too. Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), along with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health (NICHD), wanted to determine how weight-based teasing might affect body mass index (BMI) and fat mass in children over time.

The study was conducted by Dr Jack Yanovski of NICHD and his colleagues upon 110 adolescent participants comprising 55 per cent females and 45 per cent males. The study continued for up to 15 years, between July 1996 and July 2009. The participants were asked to check-in with the researchers annually. The average age of the volunteers upon enrolment in the study, was about 12 years and they were already either overweight or obese, or were considered being at high risk for adult obesity for having overweight parents.

Initially, volunteers completed a survey which asked them to report how often they experience weight-based teasing, with “1” for “never” and “5” for “often.” Their height, weight, body fat mass, and BMI were also noted, and updated each year along with a fresh questionnaire. Even after adjusting for baseline BMI and fat mass, researchers found that participants who reported being teased the most gained 33 per cent more weight and 91 per cent more fat mass per year than those who avoided jeering.

Dr Natasha Schvey, the study’s first author and psychology professor at USU opines, “What’s important about these findings is that they suggest that weight-based teasing puts children at risk for excess weight- and fat-gain over the course of their development,” It is, therefore, important to educate people that not only does teasing discourage healthy behaviors, it rather seems to do just the opposite, i.e., motivates unhealthy behaviors among those jeered at, she added.

Although researchers are not able to confirm a particular reason for the association, they believe it could be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. A child who is mocked at for their weight may experience more self-esteem issues, which could encourage unhealthy coping behaviors such as binge eating. “Based on these findings, a possible next step would be to develop clinical pediatric interventions that could help reduce the harmful effects of weight-based teasing,” said Schvey

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect refers to the phenomenon in which a person’s performance is enhanced when greater expectation is placed on him.  The phenomenon is mostly seen in children, students or employees. It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby an individual behaves the way others expect him or her to and thereby making the prediction to become true. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore F. Jacobson conducted the famous experiment on this phenomenon and published it in a book entitled Pygmalion in the Classroom (1986). In the experiment, experimenters conducted standard IQ test on children of an elementary school at the beginning of an academic year, and selected 20 per cent (about five children per class) at random, and told their teachers that the tests suggested that these children were potential academic ‘spurters’ who could be expected to show unusual intellectual gains in the year ahead. When the children were retested at the end of academic year, the ‘spurters’ showed massive IQ gains relative to the other children, especially in the first and second grades (6-7-year-old children). These gains were presumably due to subtle effects of the teachers’ expectations on the way they handled the children.