Chapter

Do Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Accumulate or Dissipate?

Lee Jussim

in Social Perception and Social Reality

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780195366600
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933044 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195366600.003.0052
Do Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Accumulate or Dissipate?

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This chapter reviews theory and data regarding the accumulation of self-fulfilling prophecies over time and across perceivers. The theoretical case for powerfully accumulating self-fulfilling prophecies (described in depth here) often seems so obvious and compelling that data are not even needed to test it—until the theoretical case for dissipating self-fulfilling prophecies is described in similar depth. Given that these opposite claims appear highly compelling, whether self-fulfilling prophecies accumulate or dissipate can only be resolved by data, not by theoretical analysis. In classrooms, the data are vividly clear: Self-fulfilling prophecies do not accumulate over time. Instead, they dissipate. Concurrent accumulation (across perceivers) in classrooms most likely does occur. This chapter shows why, perhaps surprisingly, the generally highly limited self-fulfilling prophecy effects found in existing research likely constitute an upper limit of how much concurrent accumulation actually happens. The handful of studies assessing accumulation outside of classrooms have yielded suggestive but inconsistent results from which no broad and general conclusions can yet be reached. Although one can tell a compelling story about how the accumulation of self-fulfilling prophecy upon self-fulfilling prophecy constitutes a major mechanism by which social stereotypes confirm themselves and maintain unjustified systems of oppression and status, there is, in fact, currently no clear evidence supporting such an analysis, and a great deal of evidence against it.

Keywords: self-fulfilling prophecies; teacher expectations; concurrent accumulation; social stereotypes

Chapter.  9238 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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