Two self-fulfilling prophecies are stronger, and more harmful, than one

Time and again, research has demonstrated the power of an individual's self-fulfilling prophecies if you envision yourself tripping as you walk across a stage, you will be more likely to stumble and fall. New evidence suggests that previous studies have underestimated not only the effect of our own negative prophecies, but also the power of others' false beliefs in promoting negative outcomes.

When two or more people have similar false beliefs about another person, it's possible this could influence the person's behavior. Researchers Stephanie Madon, Max Guyll, Richard Spoth, and Jennifer Willard, all at Iowa State University, examined this phenomenon to see how much influence those collective beliefs have in determining a positive or negative reality.

The researchers tested whether the false beliefs of mothers and fathers could predict the amount of drinking done by their adolescent children over the course of a year. Their study, "Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: The Synergistic Accumulative Effect of Parents' Beliefs on Children's Drinking Behavior," appeared in the December 2004 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.

The study involved 115 parents and their seventh grade children. Parents filled out questionnaires that measured their beliefs about their children's alcohol use and the children also filled out a questionnaires at the start of the experiment, including items assessing their past alcohol use. Twelve months later, the children answered a questionnaire that ascertained their recent alcohol use. The results showed that parents' beliefs predicted their children's alcohol use beyond the risk factors the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. This self-fulfilling effect was strongest when both parents overestimated their child's alcohol use the synergistic accumulative effect.

However, when one or both parents underestimated their child's alcohol use, their child's predicted increase in alc

Contact: Stephanie Madon
Association for Psychological Science

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