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Behavioural confirmation

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Behavioural confirmation is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy whereby people's social expectations (based more on social beliefs than personal expectation) lead them to act in ways that cause others to confirm the expectation.[1]

Research Edit

Psychologist Mark Snyder, and his colleagues (e.g., Skrypnek & Snyder, 1982; Snyder, 1981; Snyder, 1992; Snyder & Swann, 1978; Snyder, Tanke, & Bersheid, 1977), conducted some of the earliest and most-cited studies on behavioural confirmation. Collectively, they produced excellent examples of how a target's behaviour provides behavioural confirmation to a perceiver’s initial (and often erroneous) belief. An excellent example is from their study of the "Physical Attractiveness" stereotype. This study consisted of a number of college men that were induced to believe that they were conversing with an attractive potential female date via tape recorder. While other college men were set up to believe they were conversing with an unattractive potential female date. Through analyzation of the interactions, Snyder and his colleagues had concluded that “those (female targets) who were thought to be physically attractive by their perceivers appeared to the observer judges to manifest greater confidence, greater animation, greater enjoyment of the conversation, and greater liking of their partners” than those women believed by their perceivers to be unattractive.[2]

These findings suggest that human beings, who are the targets of many perceivers in everyday life, may routinely act in ways which are consistent not with our own attitudes, beliefs, or feelings, but rather with the perceptions and stereotypes which others hold of us and our attributes. Hence, seem to suggest that the power of others’ beliefs over our behaviours is extremely strong.[3]

First coined by Mark Snyder (1984), behavioural confirmation, also referred to in literature as ‘self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g. Rosenthal, 1974) and expectancy confirmation (e.g. Darley & Fazio, 1980), is a belief creating phenomenon. Whereby ones beliefs about another, lead them to act in a way that causes the other to confirm that expectation, e.g. one may be told another is cool and aloof, and in turn acts differently when confronting that person, which in turn causes the other to then act cool and aloof (Snyder, 1992; Snyder, Tanke & Berscheid, 1977)

Mechanisms Edit

To explain the underlying mechanisms of the phenomena, many papers have spent time on analyses and discussion, which has yielded this four step process for behavioural confirmation. First, perceivers adopt beliefs about targets. Secondly, perceivers behave towards targets as if these beliefs were true. Thirdly, targets fit their behaviour to perceivers’ overtures; and lastly, perceivers interpret targets’ behaviour as confirming their prior beliefs (Darley & Fazio, 1980; Deaux & Major, 1987; Kelley, 1992; Snyder & Stukas, 1999).

Examples Edit

• Physical attractiveness – When one interacts with another of high or low physical attractiveness they influence the others social prowess. When a target (unbeknownst to them) is tagged physically attractive, through interaction with the perceiver, in turn becomes to behave in a friendlier manner than those tagged unattractive (Snyder, Tanke & Berscheid, 1977).

• Race - In Chen and Bargh’s (1997) study, it was shown that participants who were subliminally primed with an African-American stereotype observed more hostility from the target they interacted with than those who were in the control condition. This suggests that behavioural confirmation caused targets to become more hostile when their perceiver had been negatively primed.

• Gender – When participants were made aware of their targets' gender in a division of labour task, targets fell into their gender-specific roles through behavioral confirmation (Skrypnek & Snyder, 1982).

Critique Edit

The principle objection surrounding behavioural confirmation is that the laboratory situations used in the research do not map onto real-world social interaction easily (Jussim, 1990; Miller & Turnbull, 1986). As well it is argued that behavioural disconfirmation is just as likely to develop out of expectancies as are self-fulfilling ones. Jussim’s (1990) strongest criticism is that in all previous behavioural confirmation studies, the participants have been falsely misled about the targets’ characteristics; however in real life people’s expectations are generally correct. To combat such critique, behavioural confirmation has adapted to introduce a non-conscious element (Prinz, 1990). Even though there are clearly pitfalls to the phenomenon it has continuously been studied over the past few decades highlighting it’s importance in psychology (Snyder & Klein, 2005)

See alsoEdit


  1. Darley, J.M., Gross, P.H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 20-33.
  2. McDonald, W. T., & Toussaint, L. L. (2003). Questioning the Generality of Behavioral Confirmation to Gender Role Stereotypes: Does Social Status Produce Self-Verification?. Retrieved from
  3. McDonald, W. T., & Toussaint, L. L. (2003). Questioning the Generality of Behavioral Confirmation to Gender Role Stereotypes: Does Social Status Produce Self-Verification?. Retrieved from

Rotenberg, K., Gruman, J., & Ariganello, M. (2002). Behavioral confirmation of the loneliness stereotype. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12(4), 81-89. doi: 10.1207/S15324834BASP2402_1

Chen, M. & Bargh, J. A. (1997). Nonconscious behavioural confirmation processes: the self-fulfilling consequences of automatic stereotype activation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 541-560. doi: 10.1006/jesp.1997.1329

Darley, J. M., & Fazio, R. H. (1980). Expectancy-confirmation processes arising in the social interaction sequence. American Psychologist, 35, 867-881. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.35.10.867

Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behaviour. Psychological Review, 94, 369-389. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.94.3.369

Jussim, L. (1990). Social reality and social problems: The role of expectancies. Journal of Social Issues, 46(2), 9-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1990.tb01921.x

Kelley, H. (1992). Common-sense psychology and scientific psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 1-23. doi: 10.1146/

Miller, D. T., & Turnbull, W. (1986). Expectancies and interpersonal processes. Annual Review of Psychology, 37, 233-256. doi: 10.1146/

Prinz, W. (1990). A common coding approach to perception and action. In O. Neumann & W. Prinz (Eds.), Relationships between perception and action (167-201). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Rosenthal, R. (1974). On the social psychology of the self-fulfilling prophecy: Further evidence for Pygmalion effects and their mediating mechanisms. New York: M. S. S. Inf. Corp. Modular Publications.

Skrypnek, B. J., Snyder, M. (1982). On the self-perpetuating nature of stereotypes about women and men. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 18, 277-291. doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(82)90054-3

Snyder, M. (1984). When belief creates reality. Advances in experimental social psychology, 18, 248-305. Orlando, FL: Academic press. Retrieved from

Snyder, M. (1992). Motivational foundations of behavioural confirmation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 67-114. Orlando FL: Academic press. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60282-8

Snyder, M., & Klein, O. (2005). Construing and constructing others: On the reality and the generality of the behavioural confirmation scenario. Interaction Studies, 6(1), 53-67. doi: 10.1075/is.6.1.05sny

Snyder, M., & Stukas, A. A. (1999). Interpersonal processes: The interplay of cognitive, motivational and behavioural activities in social interaction. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 273-303. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.50.1.273

Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behaviour: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(9), 656-666. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.35.9.656

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