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The Forer effect or Why Horoscopes seem so true

February 2nd, 2007 · No Comments

Today I was searching for the name of the phenomenon by which positive affirmations, predictions or personality analysis always seems true. There is no end to the number of personality tests online – ones that aid self-discovery and promote a better understanding of one’s self – you get what I am talking about.

Turns out there is an effect by the name of “The Forer Effect” or the “Barnum Effect”, which is also called the Personal Validation Fallacy. If someone predicts our future, or produces an analysis of your personality based on some questions, you tend to believe it truly describes you, and is tailor-made just for you even if that was not the case.

Bertram Forer, a psychologist, gave a personality test to his students, and then gave them the results – analysis that described the students. He gave the same analysis to all the students, and yet the students rated the analysis at 4.26/5.00 for its correctness! The text of the analysis that he gave the students is as follows:

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

I would say that is a pretty accurate analysis of my personality too.

This effect also accounts for why horoscope may seem accurately tailor-made for you, when, clearly, that can’t be the case.