The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Wishful Thinking

by Amanda Ng (’17)

friends in love.jpg
Fig. 1: Studies show that occasionally, romantic desire for a friend can cause reciprocation of feelings.

While love for most people is a positive experience, what is often desired above all is to have that love reciprocated. This desire can sometimes be so strong that it can alter perceptions of a platonic encounter to a romantic one. These perceptions can cause individuals to exhibit more romantic behaviors, such as flirting or physical affection, that can change their interests’ opinions of them. In this way, wishful thinking can create self-fulfilling prophecies in friendships.

To investigate this, Dr. Edward P. Lemay Jr. of the University of Maryland, recruited 127 pairs of platonic friends of the opposite sex from a series of introductory psychology classes at the university. The participants completed a series of questionnaires in order for researchers to measure their self-perceived mate value, as well as the mate value of their friend, their romantic desire for him/her, perception of their friend’s romantic desire, frequency of romantic behaviors, and romantic desire for a third party. This data was then formed into two multi-level models, one for each of the friends in the pair, in order to show their responses on according to different variables.

As predicted, when one person held strong romantic desire for the other, they projected their romantic feelings and exhibited higher rates of romantic behavior and flirting, particularly if they considered themselves high in mate value. As a result of these behaviors, the other person often began to desire them in return. This correlation was found in higher rates with males’ romantic desire for their female friends.

As this study was completed over a month’s time, future research should focus on longer projects in order to confirm the results.



  1. E. Lemay Jr, N. Wolf, Projection of Romantic and Sexual Desire in Opposite-Sex Friendships: How Wishful Thinking Creates a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 42, 864-878 (2016). doi: 10.1177/0146167216646077
  2. Image retrieved from:

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