self-fulfilling prophecy, a concept developed by Robert K. Merton to explain how a belief or expectation, whether correct or not, affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person (or group) will behave. Thus, for example, labeling someone a "criminal," and treating that person as such, may foster criminal behavior in the person who is subjected to the expectation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.