This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 15 table of contents.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Social Interactions

Our expectations may shape the way we respond to a person. Snyder, Tanke, and Berscheid (1977) gave students a folder with information about a female student. They were asked to call this student on the telephone and conduct an interview. The folder included a photograph of a woman, who was portrayed as either beautiful or unattractive. In reality, the photos were paired randomly with the folders, and the women who received the calls did not know whether the person calling them believed they were attractive or unattractive.

How did attractive or unattractive pictures influence a telephone conversation? How did this illustrate a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The ten-minute telephone interviews were recorded and analyzed. Students who thought they were talking to a beautiful woman were friendlier on the phone, and they were more likely to describe the person they were talking to as more friendly and sociable.

In other words, the interviewers acted differently, depending on what they expected and believed about the person on the phone. They elicited more friendly reactions from the "beautiful" women, yet they attributed this friendliness to the women rather than to their own behavior. Their expectations created the situation they expected. This type of situation, in which a person's prediction or expectation helps the prediction to come true, is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.


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