Monday, February 22, 2010

Self-fulfilling prophecy

           I once wrote a statement on the whiteboard on my officedesk which I recently had written on my status message on my google messenger too. It goes like this- " Mistrust and distrust are often self fulfilling prophecies. " A small thing here before I go on further, while I am not an expert in English, yet with the little knowledge that I have, I would like to differentiate between mistrust and distrust. While I 'distrust' something means that I dont trust that thing and I 'mistrust' something means that I find it wrong or incorrect to trust that thing. Anyways, my blog is not about trust but about self fulling prophecy and I am going to come back to my point. So this statement on the whiteboard, as people who passed by my desk reading this statement mentioned to me that they were thinking if anytime this statement was true for something in their lives. As I learn more and ponder about life, I feel, self fulfilling prophecy is prevelant in peoples' lives in different ways.

           I first learnt about the term self fulfilling prophecy when I was studying about experiments and experimental methods in psychology 101. So, what is self fulfilling prophecy in the first place? Self fulfilling prophecy is a false perception or interpretation of something which directly or indirectly causes the false conception to come true. This could be connected to self-perception theory too in a way. This whole topic is huge and can be taken into multiple directions. In this post, I am going to divide and conquer parts of this huge topic. I am going to share a few things learnt in books and then I am going to conclude with how I have seen this concept in real life.

           In psychology, placebo effect is one of the easiest to understand forms of self fulfilling prophecy. One simple form of placebo effect is when a subject of an experiment is given for example a drug which would treat some medical condition. But instead of giving them an actual medicine, they are given a dummy medicine called the placebo, but the subjects are not aware. In their mind, they still feel they are eating an actual medicine and due to a sort of positive feedback, the subjects see and experience a change though actually its just a little mind game being played with them. Another similar self fulfilling prophecy is the pygmalion effect which deals with the attitude of people. It goes along the lines of placing higher expectations on people to bring out better results from them and in some cases it works positively. The flip side also works, where the more negative or lower expectations you have from a person, the poorer they are likely to perform. This is particularly true in case of observer bias where experimenter expects certain results and tries to unknowingly influence the subjects or the conditions to get the result they expected. Even in case of kids, parents and teachers often have high expectations from certain kids and low expectations from certain kids, so in most cases, despite the kids' actual potential, they tend to unknowingly fulfil the high and low expectations. I dont want to go into a lot of details about the self fulfilling prophecy theoretically here.

           When I think about these, I think if I have encountered anything similar in my own life. Well I guess yes. Lot of people including me, tend to become very cynical after a few bad experiences. Cynical about not just others, but about themselves. In a way it is like a closed mindedness that you induce into yourself and somehow or the other your false perception eventually comes true. That is probably the reason, some people tend to appear to be making the same mistakes and have a string of failures be it in relationships, or work or in studies. One of the first classic examples of this is my own life is my fear of mathematics. As a kid I was always scared of maths. I am still confused as to how it started, was it because i disliked the subject and scored low or was it because I scored low that I started disliking the subject. But however it started, by my  5th grade, I used to be scared of maths and slowly began to dislike the subject too. I kept believing that I didnt have the aptitude and kept proving that right by scoring low in maths all the time which would affect my overal grades every year. On top of all this, I wanted to become an engineer and knew I could never escape mathematics no matter what. Thanks to god, I tried to stop thinking about liking or disliking the subject or about the fact that I am good or bad at the subject. I started studying because like other subjects I had to study this one too. By the time I got into Engineering college, I started getting better and confident about the subject. But similar things have happened to me, where few friends ditched me and slowly I began to believe that friends are people who will leave you and go and the more I began to believe that, more friends began to leave me,  and my defense mechanism for that, before they try to leave me, I try to leave myself. Funny and stupid as it sounds, it is very true.
            Another classic example is astrological prediction. Some prediction could say that you are going to flunk your exam next semester, and there is a high possibility that you believe that prediction and unknowingly tend to do things which are going to make you make that prediction come true. Similarly, good prediction could work good for you too. While the prediction was just a mere statement, our perception could make it true eventually. Similarly, distrust is one biggest examples according to me, of self fulfilling prophecy. We tend to mistrust people slowly and steadily, it does become true and become a distrust altogether. I mean all this happens in the mind, what might have actually happened in reality may not exactly be in sync with our imaginations and thoughts. After watching "shutter island" yesterday night, I started exploring this concept in terms of self-perception theory and a glimpse of that can be summed up in one line, may be people can drive themselves crazy without their own knowledge. However that whole thing is a separate topic for another blogpost.

1 comment:

  1. To put in a nut-shell, remember the sage Adi Sankara saying: "TAT TVAM ASI" meaning "You become that what you think you would become" or "Thou art That".

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