The Nonverbal Mediation of Self-fulfilling Prophecies in Interracial Interaction
The concern and issue of this article is stated in the title and
the abstract--Self-fulfilling prophecy. It's that positive or negative
thoughts will lead to positive or negative behaviors; these behaviors
will trigger behavior in others. Others will react, which will
reinforce the initial subject to continue to act in that negative or
positive way. In the end, the subject reaps the exact rewards or
punishments that he or she expects. In the paper, the researchers call
it a "false definition," however, I believe that it can be positive
behaviors as well. If someone acts and thinks and behaves in a
positive way, others may behave accordingly, reinforcing the positive
Self-Fulfilling prophecy is similar to demand characteristics.
Researchers may subconsciously shape subject behavior through words
and reactions--eliciting the hoped-for results. If researchers know or
expect certain behaviors, or to look for behaviors in their test
subjects, they may subconsciously positively reward or punish the
behaviors they do or don't want. Double-blind studies, where research
administrators don't know which variable is being studied, are useful
to combat demand characteristics. Self-fulfilling prophecy takes it
one step further--instead of just acting accordingly, the subject
thinks accordingly. When the subject thinks a certain way, he or she
acts a certain way. The subjects subconsciously pick up on these cues.
In the end, the test results may be skewed and inaccurate.
Studying self-fulfilling prophecy is important because the concept
of self-esteem is so important. Those with higher self-esteem perform
better in work, school, and in relationships. They're more productive
members of society. It behooves a society to enable its citizens to
work, act, and produce at the best of their ability. Low self-esteem
can lead to depression, addiction, unemployment, incarceration, and
divorce. A worker who is employed and happy contributes to the
greater societal good. Studying something as basic as human resources
and interviewing techniques is fundamental in both western and eastern
This study was performed in 1974--almost 40 years ago and only 10
years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Those who
participated (college and high school students) were a little young to
remember how it had been before the passage, but their parents
remembered. The students may have heard or experienced deep prejudice
in their homes and schools. Even though laws may change overnight, it
takes a little longer for culture to catch up. It takes three
generations for a society to shed a trauma; the first generation lives
through the crisis (i.e. the great depression), the second generation
is reared by the first who lived through it, but the third generation
is not stymied by the experience.
The researcher writes on page 111, "It has been demonstrated time and
again that white Americans have generalized negative evaluations
(e.g., stereotypes) of black Americans." Times have changed since this
article was written; however, contemporary researchers would probably
garner similar results using similar populations. There are different
groups all over the country (and the world) who are in conflict with
each other. There is still rampant sexism, racism and homophobia.
Disabled and overweight people are regularly treated with disrespect.
For example, we could probably recreate these findings here in America
using overweight people, or people with visible deformities. We could
replicate these findings in England possibly using Irish applicants or
in India with its rigid caste system.
The researchers claim that others found similar results using
different populations. Kleck (page 110) found that "normal
interactants were found to terminate interviews sooner...with a
handicapped person...and employ greater interaction distances with an
epileptic stranger (Kleck et al., 1968)." Instead of prejudice, it
could be anxiety which causes people to act inappropriately.
Interviewers may have had many negative stereotypes built up around
minorities, but didn't have as many around disabled. Therefore, the
anxiety caused by an unknown situation and unknown proper etiquette
could have caused them to terminate the interview early--not racism.
This study was done with privileged, male, white, ivy-league students.
It's probable that researchers would garner a different result with
this study in the 21st century due to better education and increased
sensitivity in schools to race. I would be curious to see how "white
guilt" could play a part. White guilt, or the over compensating by the
dominant class for perceived potential racism, could even out the
interview interactions and perhaps even skew the results in the
opposite direction. The white interviewers would spend more time with
the black students in the first interview.
It would be interesting to see if these results hold true with women
interviewers; women are more stereotypically in tune with their own
and the behavior of others. Women are shaped to be more sensitive to
social cues and female subjects/interviewees would definitely read
more into interviewer behavior--thereby perhaps showing more varied or
In the first study, the independent variable is race...yet even within
race there are shades of grey. There are African Americans who were
born in the south and who were born in the north; there are Africans
who are immigrants to this country. All could be initially assessed
and therefore treated differently by the research subjects.