Self-defeating prophecy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

A self-defeating prophecy is the complementary opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy: a prediction that prevents what it predicts from happening. This is also known as the "prophet's dilemma".

A self-defeating prophecy can be the result of rebellion to the prediction. If the audience of a prediction has an interest in seeing it falsified, and its fulfillment depends on their actions or inaction, their actions upon hearing it will make the prediction less plausible. If a prediction is made with this outcome specifically in mind, it is commonly referred to as reverse psychology. Also, when working to make a premonition come true, one can inadvertently change the circumstances so much that the prophecy cannot come true.

It is important to distinguish a self-defeating prophecy from a self-fulfilling prophecy that predicts a negative outcome. If a prophecy of a negative outcome is made, and that negative outcome is achieved as a result of positive feedback, then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a group of people decide they will not be able to achieve a goal and stop working towards the goal as a result, their prophecy was self-fulfilling. Likewise, if a prediction of a negative outcome is made, but the outcome is positive because of negative feedback resulting from the rebellion, then that is a self-defeating prophecy.


  • The biblical prophet Jonah famously ran away and refused to deliver God's prophecy of Nineveh's destruction,[1] lest the inhabitants repent and cause God to forgive them and not destroy the city. Indeed, when Jonah eventually does deliver the prophecy, the people do mend their ways and cause the prophecy not to happen.[2]
  • The Year 2000 problem was claimed to be an example of a self-defeating prophecy, in that fear of massive technology failures caused by clocks "rolling over" encouraged the very changes needed to avoid those failures.[citation needed]
  • Pre-announcing products in a way that discourages current sales (the Osborne effect) is also an example of a self-defeating prophecy.
  • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels published by the BBC, the Eighth Doctor learns that he has been infected by the Faction Paradox biodata virus in his third incarnation and will eventually become one of the Faction, prompting him to take action to find a way to cure himself; even when the future version of himself that will result from his infection appears, the knowledge that he was infected inspired the Doctor to start work on finding a cure, learning that his TARDIS had already taken action to help him. If the Doctor had not been informed that he would become a member of the Faction, he might not have realised what was happening to him until it was too late.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jonah 1:2-3
  2. ^ Jonah 3:4-10

External links[edit]