Behavior confirmation refers to behaviors people engage in during their everyday interactions with others. People form opinions of others that can be erroneous. But instead of abandoning these wrong conclusions, they tend to engage in behaviors that validate their prejudices.
People develop opinions of others that may not be accurate. For example, when Bob is having a particularly bad day, Suzy -- after meeting Bob for the first time -- may assume that he is always moody. When Bob is normally cheerful but occasionally shows signs of irritation, Suzy may use these moments of irritation as examples to confirm that Bob is "always" moody.
Behavior confirmation can create a cycle where a perceiver expects a target to behave in a certain way and the perceiver acts in a way that causes the target to confirm the perceiver's prejudices. For example, Suzy may be rude to Bob in response to his perceived moodiness. This can put Bob in a bad mood, causing him to engage in behaviors that verify that he is usually moody. Some people behave in ways designed specifically to elicit reactions. Therefore, Bob may see Suzy as rude and choose to be unfriendly to her as a result. When this causes Suzy to continue to be rude, it proves to him that Suzy is unfriendly.
According to a 2004 research published by Olivier Klein and Mark Snyder in "Behavioral Confirmation," researchers have conducted experiments where they prepare subjects before they meet an individual. The subjects were likely to describe the personality of the people they met in a way compatible with the way the researchers described the individual.
Behavioral confirmation clashes with self-verification, which is the way the target individual perceives herself. When the target person has a strong sense of who she is as a person and a significant amount of self-knowledge, the individual trying to elicit behavioral confirmation will be less likely to do so successfully. However, when the target lacks self-knowledge, the other person can elicit certain behaviors out of the target.
Behavioral confirmation has led to the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy, where the perceiver controls the target's behavior. This can be significant in the classroom where students haven't fully developed their own identity. For example, when a teacher expects a student to do poorly in class, this expectation can cause the student to perform poorly, which leads to a verification of the perceiver's prophecy. For older students, a teacher may erroneously expect a high-achieving student to fail. If the high-achieving student has a strong sense of his capabilities, that student is likely to engage in self-talk that invalidates the teacher's negative attitude toward him, causing behavioral confirmation to not work. This can also happen in reverse, such as when a positive teacher tries to boost the self-esteem of a student who lacks confidence in her abilities in the classroom.
- University of Brussels; Construing and Constructing Others: On the Reality and the Generality of the Behavioral Confirmation Scenario; Mark Snyder, et al.; September 2004
- American Psychological Association; Glossary of Psychological Terms; Richard J. Gerrigg, et al.
- University of Texas; A Battle of Wills: Self-Verification Versus Behavioral Confirmation; William B. Swan, et al.
Chuck Robert specializes in nutrition, marketing, nonprofit organizations and travel. He has been writing since 2007, serving as a ghostwriter and contributing to online publications. Robert holds a Master of Arts with a dual specialization in literature and composition from Purdue University.