Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, where he attained the rank of University Professor. In 1994, Merton won the National Medal of Science
National Medal of Science
The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

 for his contributions to the field and for having founded the sociology of science.

Merton developed notable concepts such as "unintended consequences
Unintended Consequences
Unintended Consequences is a novel by John Ross, first published in 1996 by Accurate Press. The story chronicles the history of the gun culture, gun rights and gun control in the United States from the early 1900s through the late 1990s...

," the "reference group," and "role strain" but is perhaps best known for having created the terms "role model
Role model
The term role model generally means any "person who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by others".The term first appeared in Robert K. Merton's socialization research of medical students...

" and "self-fulfilling prophecy
Self-fulfilling prophecy
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. Although examples of such prophecies can be found in literature as far back as ancient Greece and...


The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come "true". This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.

Social Theory and Social Structure (1968), p. 477