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Self-fulfilling Prophecies

Expectations of stereotypes will come to pass if people believe in them.

Self-fulfilling prophecies—ideas that become reality simply because someone believes them—do not usually have strong effects. But a study shows that expectations may come to pass when many people hold the same beliefs—if those beliefs are unfavorable.

Stephanie Madon, an Iowa State University psychologist, investigated parents' expectations about their children's alcohol use. She discovered that when both parents believe that a child will abuse alcohol, in fact, the child is likely to drink more than expected. This holds true even when signs, such as past alcohol use and friends' behavior, suggest a teenager is at low risk. The findings support the social theory that prophecies are especially self-fulfilling for stereotyped groups.

But Madon notes that her study also offers hope. If one parent has positive expectations about a child, the child is protected from the other parent's negative belief.