A Practical Guide to Its Use in Education
By Robert T. Tauber
"What we expect, all too often, is exactly what we get. Nowhere is this more true than in education, where teachers'
expectations of students are crucial. The self-fulfilling prophecy should be of great interest to teachers, both those in training
and those in service. Whether or not a teacher is aware of it, the self-fulfilling prophecy is at work, impacting students either
to their benefit or their detriment. It follows that teachers should be made aware of the SFP and how it can be used
effectively in education. Using the new on-line research facilities, Dr. Tauber has compiled over 700 doctoral dissertations
and countless journal articles on stereotyping, perception of social differences, race, gender, ethnicity, body features, age,
socioeconomic levels, special needs, and other personal and situational factors. The last part of the book presents a
collection of testimonials written from the viewpoint of practitioners. "
A concept developed by Robert K. MERTON to explain how a belief or expectation, whether correct or not, affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person (or group) will behave. Thus, for example, labeling someone a criminal, and treating that person as such, may foster criminal behavior in the person who is subjected to the expectation
The concept of the self-fulfilling
prophecy can be summarized in these key principles:
- We form certain expectations of people or events
- We communicate those expectations with various cues.
- People tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them.
- The result is that the original expectation becomes true.
This creates a circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.
The Pygmalion Effect
Does it work?
A convincing body of behavioral research says it does.
In 1971 Robert Rosenthal, a professor of social psychology at Harvard, described an experiment in which he told a group of students that he had developed a strain of super-intelligent rats that could run mazes quickly. He then passed out perfectly normal rats at random, telling half of the students that they had the new "maze-bright" rats and the other half that they got "maze-dull" rats.
The rats believed to be bright improved daily in running the maze they ran faster and more accurately. The "dull" rats refused to budge from the starting point 29% of the time, while the "bright" rats refused only 11% of the time.
This experiment illustrates the first of a number of corollaries to our five basic principles.
=> High expectations lead to
higher performance; low expectations lead to lower performance
=> Better performance resulting from high expectations leads us to like someone more
Lower performance resulting from low expectations leads us to like someone less
In another classic experiment, Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson worked with elementary school children from 18 classrooms. They randomly chose 20% of the children from each room and told the teachers they were "intellectual bloomers."
They explained that these children could be expected to show remarkable gains during the year. The experimental children showed average IQ gains of two points in verbal ability, seven points in reasoning and four points in over all IQ. The "intellectual bloomers" really did bloom!
Such communication together with possible changes in teaching techniques may have helped the child learn by changing his self concept, his expectations of his own behavior, and his motivation, as well as his cognitive style and skills."
There was no difference in the amount of time the teachers spent with the students. Evidently there was a difference in the quality of the interactions. The teachers also found the "bloomers" to be more appealing, more affectionate and better adjusted. Some students gained in IQ even though they had not been designated as "bloomers," but they were not regarded to be as appealing, affectionate or well-adjusted.
Apparently, the bloomers had done what was expected of them and the teachers
were comfortable with them. The other students who did well surprised
the teachers; they did the unexpected and the teachers were not as comfortable
with them. It may be that they were thought of as overstepping their bounds
or labeled as troublemakers.
=> We tend to be comfortable with people
who meet our expectations, whether they’re high or low;
We tend not to be comfortable with people who don’t meet our expectations, whether they are high
=> Forming expectations is natural
The simple truth is that almost all of us behave pretty much according to the way we’re treated.
If you keep telling a teenager, for example, that he’s worthless, has no sense of right or wrong and isn’t going to amount to anything, he’ll probably respond accordingly.
If you keep telling him (sincerely) that he’s important to you that you have every confidence in his judgment as to what’s right or wrong and that you’re sure he’s going to be successful in whatever he decides to do, he’ll also tend to respond accordingly.
You transmit those expectations to him and he’ll begin to reflect the image you’ve created for him.
=> Once formed expectations
about ourselves tend to be self-sustaining
=> The best managers have confidence in themselves and in their ability to hire, develop and motivate people; largely because of the self-confidence, they communicate high expectations to others
Seating low expectation students far from the teacher and/or seating them in a group
Paying less attention to lows in academic situations (smiling less often, maintaining less eye contact, etc.)
Calling on lows less often to answer questions or to make public demonstrations
Waiting less time for lows to answer questions Not staying with lows in
failure situations (e g. providing
fewer clues, asking fewer follow-up questions)
Criticizing lows more frequently than highs for incorrect responses
Praising lows less frequently than highs after successful responses
Praising lows more frequently than highs for marginal or inadequate responses
Providing lows with less accurate and less detailed feedback than highs
Failing to provide lows with feedback about their responses as often as highs
Demanding less work and effort from lows than from highs
Interrupting lows more frequently than highs