My personal belief is that that stereotypes are one of the most harmful of human actions, and affect individuals negatively in many ways, especially from the perspective of mental health. Studies have shown that negative stereotypes and beliefs by ourselves and others can become self-fulfilling prophesies, resulting in “negative outcomes” even if they are not true. This in turn leads to the internalization of emotions and feelings of shame, or feelings that you have to achieve certain goals in order to be happy in life, even when these are not true or realistic. These false beliefs which are forced on us also impact people’s struggles with mental illness.
The best way I have come to understand the effects of false perceptions is through the Student/ Teacher self-fulfilling prophecy concept. In one study testing this concept , for example, teachers at a school were told that a certain group of students were expected to achieve greater academic success based on a test they had just taken. At the end of the school year, the students who had been “expected” to achieve higher marks scored 10%-15% higher than their fellow classmates. Later it was revealed that the students were randomly selected – with no basis for stating that some would do better than others. This study demonstrates how a pre-existing idea has the ability to manipulate people’s attitudes.
Studies have also shown that the same situation exists for labels used for a person’s gender, race, religion and so much more – when some people have wrong perceptions or biases about someone else, this shared perception can actually determines that person’s actions. Although a lot of discrimination and bias been reduced, people’s prejudices often result from automatic tendencies to support people (and beliefs) that are similar to themselves or their own views – even if this hurts other people.
We invented labels with the view that there is a physical perfection and exactness to everything in our world – which simply isn’t the case. We as humans need to grow and change as the world’s and people’s perceptions of the world change. When people are told that they are “something” or that they must choose from a pre-existing limited range of ideas, it confines the human mind and has the capacity to psychologically harm individuals, since they are unable to understand how they can express themselves if there isn’t a precise word for who they truly feel and believe they are and they are having many different labels being forced upon them. This was confirmed in another study where it was found that if both parents believed that their child was abusing alcohol the child would end up abusing alcohol in the future.
Through my survey, I will show that society’s younger generations have been misinformed as to what will create feelings of success, happiness, versatility and resilience for the duration of one’s life.
My survey will identify the values and ideas that young people believe will lead to their own successful, happy, resilient life. I expect that these personal values and ideas will be different than the standard values that our society and parents have led us to believe bring success and happiness: for example, a good education, a high-paying job with status, raising a family, etc.
According to Psychology Today; the four primary life objectives are “meaning, integrity, success and happiness”. My study is focusing on determining which goals most people strive for during the course of their lives and which social constructs we are told to fulfill in order to achieve these qualities. My hopes would be to understand the effect of society and its constructs on the individuals like me who are beginning to plan the rest of their lives. It is possible however that society’s views are so deeply set in people, that even my survey will not be able to separate people’s actual views and the beliefs of others, like their parents, that they have adopted without knowing it.
Trial and Error
I began this experiment by handing out several preliminary surveys to find out if there were any additional social constructs or important characteristics which I had not yet considered in my surveys. After receiving comments from my peers, I decided to add Social Media as a characteristic since I had missed it in my preliminary surveys and I believe that everyone is either directly or indirectly affected by it in our current society.
What does the average teen believe will keep them feeling safe and validated and which social constructs have falsely informed them of unfounded methods of attaining those virtues? This comparison I believe is relevant because it would inform us of the ideologies and values of the generation which is about to enter the adult world. Hopefully this study will help those understand more thoroughly the influence that society has on the psychological health of my peers.
My surveys confirmed a strong connection between unfounded social constructs and those values which truly bring fulfilment in life. For example, this can be shown that although monogamy has been disproven as a natural occurrence, 70% of responses to my survey indicated that this was believed to be a critical factor in the pursuit of meaning, integrity, success and happiness.