Think I Can’t, Think I Can’t! The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Older People
Most of us are familiar with the children’s story of The Little Engine That Could, in which the engine on the train said, “Ithink I can, think Ican!”when he was trying to pull the train up a steep hill.Used for years as an example of the power of positive thinking, the reverse side of the story might be that If people think that they cannot do something, that task becomes more difficult, and perhaps even impossible, for them to accomplish. Sociologists have a similar corollary to this story of the train, and the idea has widely referred to as the Thomas theorem or the self-fulfilling prophecy. As defined in Chapter S,.a self-fulfilling prophecy is a false belief r prediction that produces behavior that makes the originally false belief come true. The original statement of this prophecy, known as the “Thomas theorem” because of its possible originator, W. I.Thomas, is as follows: “If[people] define situations as real, hey are real in their consequences:
How does this statement apply to the lives of older people? Researchers have found a number of ways In which this statement is applicable to the way that many people perceive the aging process and the way that many older people people may view themselves in actions that more highly value youth over older people. The Norwegian sociologist Per Erik Solem (2008) explored the influence f he work environment on how age-related subjective cha occurred in red in people’s workability. He found that although age and physical health are obviously associated with decline in the work ability of older individuals. stereotypes and self-stereotypes negative assumptions about themselves that are embraced by Individuals who are being stereotyped) about aging are also important in producing a decline in a person’s work ability. According to Salem (2008: 44), objective capacities such as physical strength and en
durance may be important when it comes to performing certain tasks, such as lifting heavy equipment or nursing bedridden patients; however, “what workers believe they are able to do, influences to what extent they use their potential of objective abilities: In other words, if older individuals subjectively define themselves as less able than they actually are, given their objective potential, then they may be less likely to perform a task that might be quite within their capabilities to do. Although changing associated with aging will always be a factor in some types of Job performance, including those that require quick reactions or wavy physical work, many occupations can benefit from the experience and expertise of older workers because of their job- relevant knowledge or skILLs.For This reason, Salem (2008) suggests that older workers should be provided with new learning opportunities and a chance to maintain their subjective work ability throughout their careers. Sociology not only helps s to see that cultural changes are needed If we are to rid ourselves and our society of age-based negative stereotypes about oldindividualsuals, but it also reminds us that the self-fulfilling prophecy is applicable at any stage of life.”Ithink I can”ls a positive psychosocial force, whereas “I Think Ican Is a negative for
Reflect & Analyze
Can you think of periods of time In your life when a negative stereotype and or self-stereotype may have contributed to your not doing something that you had the objective ability to do? In addition to issues pertaining to age, do you think the Thomas theorem might also be applicable to problems associated with race, class, and or gender?
canrly when they reach the end of this period of their lives. As previously discussed, those who had few opportunities available arlier in life tend to become increasingly drsadvantaged as they grow older.