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What does a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy mean?

What is the meaning of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

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Robert K. Merton, who is an American sociologist, but was a Columbia University professor for years, is most commonly known for originally defining the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”. According to, his book, Social Theory and Social Structure (published in 1949) is where the definition is first documented. He states that it is “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true”. Even though it was first defined in his book, examples of the term can be found in ancient Greek literature as well.

A more simple explanation would be that if a person wakes up in the morning and automatically has a negative attitude, that negative attitude could directly or indirectly affect his or her actions throughout the day, resulting in that person summarizing his day as “bad”.

Normal use of the term is generally found in reference to future events. As mentioned before, examples can be found in some very dated Greek literature, but even today you can find examples of the term in numerous, current, pieces of literature.

The comprehension of this term has been found to be beneficial in other areas as well. It has also been used to help people who suffer from mental illness. Someone who suffers from chronic depression or anxiety can sometimes benefit from this term by putting it into action. If they were to genuinely focus on thinking more positively, that state of mind could affect them emotionally, and lead them to feeling happier, or more calm and less stressed about current situations. This technique is found in cognitive behavioral therapy. To put it simply, changing your attitude, your demeanor, your general outlook or perception, to be more optimistic might change that expected “bad” experience, into a “good” experience, if not a tolerable one.

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