Psychologist Who Defined Self-fulfilling Prophecy Research to Lecture May 30

UC Riverside’s Robert Rosenthal launched a field of study that focuses on how body movement and tone of voice can influence jury trials, student performance and patient outcomes.

Robert Rosenthal

Robert Rosenthal

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Renowned psychologist Robert Rosenthal, whose research into experimenter bias and other types of self-fulfilling prophecy led to an increased emphasis on the importance of double-blind studies in the social and biomedical sciences, will deliver the annual College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Distinguished Research Lecture at UC Riverside on Wednesday, May 30. The lecture will begin at 3 p.m. in Interdisciplinary 1113. It is free and open to the public. Parking costs $6.

Rosenthal’s lecture, “Self-fulfilling Prophecies and Covert Communication in Classrooms, Clinics, Corporations, Cubicles, and Courtrooms,” will reflect on more than 50 years of research on the self-fulfilling prophecy — known as the “Rosenthal Effect” — that launched a new field of study in psychology and ultimately challenged two generations of researchers to focus on how body movement and tone of voice can influence the results of jury trials, student performance, and patient outcomes.

A distinguished professor of psychology at UC Riverside and one of only a few University of California scholars to be awarded the honor of University Professor, Rosenthal said he will discuss his ruined doctoral dissertation at UCLA in 1956 that launched his research career; a German horse called “Clever Hans” who could do math and/or read your mind because of an unrecognized self-fulfilling prophecy of the horse’s questioners; and 50 years of studies by social and behavioral researchers which showed that these researchers too often obtained the results they expected because of their own unrecognized self-fulfilling prophecies.

“That finding led to experiments showing that teachers who had been led to expect superior intellectual performance from their students obtained superior intellectual performance from their students. Other studies found that, in business and in military situations, when supervisors were led to expect superior performance they obtained superior performance,” he said. “As with teachers, researchers and clever horses, self-fulfilling prophecies were at work.”

Studies of self-fulfilling prophecies led to research on nonverbal communication which found that a physician’s tone of voice in talking with or about patients could predict their success in referring alcoholic patients to treatment and, in the case of surgeons, could predict their likelihood of being sued by their patients. In courtrooms, judges’ beliefs about the guilt of defendants was associated with nonverbal cues to the jury that markedly affected the verdicts rendered by California juries.

Rosenthal taught at Harvard University for 37 years before joining the UCR faculty in 1999. He earned a B.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA, has won numerous awards for his research, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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