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self-fulfilling prophecy

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A concept introduced into sociology by Robert Merton (see his Social Theory and Social Structure, 1957), and allied to William Isaac Thomas's earlier and famous theorem that ‘when people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences’. Merton suggests the self-fulfilling prophecy is an important and basic process in society, arguing that ‘in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evokes a new behaviour which makes the originally false conception come true. [It] perpetuates a reign of error’. See also self-destroying prophecy; unintended or unanticipated consequences.

Subjects: Social sciencesEconomics

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