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 behavior.
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 societies.
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 stronger results.
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.