By Chelsea LoCascio
Negative reinforcement of ideas affect you more than you think. By telling yourself you’re an awful student or that you’re socially awkward only makes that idea come to life.
In a sociology class last week, I learned about sociologist Robert K. Merton’s concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy as discussed in his book, “Social Theory and Social Structure.”
“The self-fulfilling prophecy is… a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true,” Merton said. This self-created prophecy stemmed from the Thomas Theorem adopted by W. I. Thomas: “if men define situations as real, they are real in consequences.”
This may sound obvious to the average person, but I was so enthralled by the idea. Our actions subconsciously promote these images we have of ourselves or of a certain situation. People are too caught up in their lives to realize the effects of this thought process on themselves as well as the people around them.
Merton uses the example of a student who becomes so focused on failing a test that they spend more time worrying than they do studying. Consequently, the student fails the test and believes they were justified for worrying in the first place. The student becomes so engrossed in the perceived outcome, that they don’t take the proper precautions to ensure they will do well on the test. They change their behavior to fit their perception of themselves and achieve that perception.
After careful examination of our own lives, I think every student at the College has done something to fit Merton’s theory. Primarily, students face an immense pressure to succeed at a college as competitive at this one and we can end up convincing ourselves that we aren’t good enough in comparison to the other students around us.
Unless you have an impossible and unreasonable professor, students tend to fail because they let their own or others’ negative assumptions about them get in their head. It’s sad to see this concept take shape in the minds of people you care about as you try to encourage them to succeed, but all they can see themselves as is a failure. Words can hurt people more than you think as they can internalize those words and make them a reality.
Despite all of this negativity, the prophecy can take on a positive meaning if you and the people around you reinforce positive attributes and ideas upon yourself. The outcome of your life is up to you, so stay positive or your negative thoughts may become your reality.
Students share opinions around campus
“Your attitude towards things affects you. If you let stress get in the way … and overwhelm you, you limit your chances of succeeding. Limit your stress and you have a better chance of succeeding. Positive thinkers are more open-minded.”
“I think this exists for students who just came to college. Students in a new environment are more likely to experience that. I think people who worry about a test don’t set themselves up for failure… their thinking process is not organized. Obviously, if they worry about failing, they care.”