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How does the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy affect us in our day to day?

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Our thoughts, those ideas, beliefs and ideological principles that we have of ourselves and of what we surrounds us, are the foundations that help us to construct and conceptualize our reality, and to suppose what can come to be. occur. This type of thinking is called predictive thinking or expectation, and we use it at all times. As the psychologist Valeria Sabater explains: "the power of the predictive mind is a practice that we apply without realizing it and that defines a good part of our daily life."

This ability to anticipate is key to adaptation and problem solving. Now, what happens when false beliefs are created and we refuse to explore different possibilities? These erroneous beliefs will generate an "accurate" anticipation that will influence our behavior in such a way that we will cause a "falsehood" to come true. This is the genesis of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is the self-fulfilling prophecy?

The self-fulfilling prophecy explains how our predictive thoughts (expectations) but wrong, can condition our actions (predisposition) to the point of

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that we get to convert something fictitious or false into a reality or truth (compliance). There are two types of self-fulfilling prophecies: self-imposed and those that are imposed by others.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

In the branch of psychology, this cognitive bias it is also known as the Pygmalion effect, due to a Greek myth in which a sculptor of the same name felt such passion by one of her creations, which treated the statue as if she were a real woman, causing the statue—Galatea—to charge life.

How did this concept begin to form?

This concept was proposed by the sociologist Robert K. Merton (1948) in response to the "Thomas Theorem" of the sociologist William I. Thomas. This theorem states that if people If we define a situation as real, that situation will have real consequences..

Years later, the psychologist Robert Rosenthal and the researcher Lenore Jacobson carried out an experiment to assess the role of the self-fulfilling prophecy in academic performance. The research found that teachers' expectations had significant consequences on performance. of the student body: the more positive the teacher's expectation was, the better the student's performance was, and vice versa. This special phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy is known as the rosenthal effect.

  • Related article: "Cognitive Psychology: Definition, Theories, and Leading Authors"

How does it materialize?

Three events must occur for a self-fulfilling prophecy to come true:

  • Must be having a false belief about a situation or person. In psychology, this is known as cognitive distortion, since an erroneous interpretation of reality is made.
  • Looking for facts or examples that confirm this false belief. This tendency, known as confirmation bias, focuses on finding and fitting only the information that corroborates our mistaken thoughts.
  • belief is confirmed due to predisposition. The feeling of certainty predisposes our actions and causes behavioral conditioning, which materializes the belief.

It should be noted that this process is cyclical, since as soon as the expectation becomes a reality, we have more "evidence" that confirms the initial false belief, and so on.

Why does the self-fulfilling prophecy occur?

First of all, it is important to emphasize that anticipation (objective expectation) is an inherent and fundamental cognitive capacity of executive functions, which control and self-regulate behavior to achieve a specific goal, and whose neurological bases fall primarily on the prefrontal cortex.

Absolutely all of us have expectations of ourselves and everything that surrounds us.. If the beliefs and expectations are adjusted to reality, they can serve as a source of motivation. However, preconceived opinions can easily become prejudices if they are not properly founded. The problem precisely lies in not being able to let go of our prejudices, quite the contrary. By clinging to them, we establish thought habits that not only distort cognitive flexibility (behavioral adaptation), but reap mental rigidity (cognitive resistance). This is the case of the self-fulfilling prophecy, in which we get stuck with a false belief and rule out any other explanation.

According to psychologist Ana María de la Calle, have low self esteem may be the origin of this phenomenon. He also stresses that this process is usually common in people who tend to be negative or self-demanding, becoming something cyclical, since the result further reinforces the original belief, increasing the insecurity and the low self-esteem, and so on (self-imposed prophecy). Similarly, as established by the Maslow pyramid of needs, every human being has a need to belong and wants to be accepted by a community or group. Sometimes, this need can also lead us to assume roles or take actions to fit the expectations that are held of us (prophecy imposed by others).

Along these lines, we could also define self-sabotage as the manifestation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to the psychologist Isabel Rovira Salvador, self-sabotage behaviors are intended to hinder the achievement of goals, causing failure or disappointment. Rovira establishes that people who participate in this type of behavior suffer from low self-esteem, have limiting beliefs and fear that they will not live up to the expectations of others. Sounds familiar? In this sense, people who self-sabotage have a negative cognitive bias about themselves, modify their behavior, and either Due to procrastination or under the shield of perfectionism, they do not achieve their goal, and when they fail, they make the self-fulfilling prophecy come true.

How can the self-fulfilling prophecy affect us?

According to research, the self-fulfilling prophecy can materialize in any area of ​​our day to day, and can generate intense anxiety and provoke a state of constant alertness, which can be draining and demotivating for any.

Next, we will detail some practical and daily examples of how this phenomenon can materialize:

  • personal sphere: We convince ourselves that we are not deserving of affection, and this low self-esteem does not allow us to vocalize that we have this need. By not receiving affection, we will be consolidating the initial false thought.
  • Labor sphere: We are sure that the job interview will go wrong for us, and this belief makes us not give our best in the interview and, finally, we are not offered the job.
  • academic field: We focus on the fact that we will not be able to pass a subject, this does not allow us to prepare for the exam, and indeed, we fail.
  • Social ambit: We insist that we suffer from social rejection and that is why we cannot make new friends. This belief will make it difficult to create new friendships, and the vicious cycle will continue.
  • In the relationship with our partner: We accuse our partner of being unfaithful when it is not true. Hostile behavior and unfounded mistrust will cause our partner to not be at liking the relationship, and this may lead her to meet other people and to consider breaking the relationship. relationship.

How can we combat the self-fulfilling prophecy?

  • Paying attention: Identifying the problem is often the first step to solving it. By being aware of our thoughts and our language, we will be able to shape our behavior, avoiding falling into the vicious circle of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Let's forget about the typical "No, I already knew."
  • putting us to the test: similar to the debate exercises that are done in the institute, look for possible alternatives or reasons to explain situations from a point of view opposite to yours is a good exercise in practice. This will allow you to increase your cognitive flexibility and move away from mental rigidity.
  • Turning to psychological therapy: working with a psychology professional can help you carry out effective cognitive restructuring, a technique typical of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which will allow you to identify and exchange negative thought patterns for others positives.

We should not be prisoners of our thoughts, these are not reality, they are the product of our mind. It is in our power to take charge and question our beliefs when they are not grounded in objectivity. If we turn off autopilot, we are aware of our thoughts and our language, and we surround ourselves with people who intellectually challenge us, we will avoid falling into this vicious circle and we will be able to expand our minds and foster growth staff.

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