Horoscopes have captivated people for thousands of years. For many, reading their horoscope is a daily ritual. They may even believe it provides insight into their personality, relationships, and future. But that’s because writers use vague and general statements that can apply to anyone. This phenomenon is known as the Barnum Effect.
What’s the Barnum Effect?
The Barnum Effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people believe that vague statements about their personality or circumstances are actually specific to them. The effect is named after P.T. Barnum, the 19th-century circus owner, who famously said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
Of course, we’re not calling people suckers; it’s just that horoscopes are deliberately written to make you feel a certain way even though they can’t possibly be directed at you.
Now, if you’re feeling superior because you would never believe in a horoscope, it might be helpful to know that personality trait tests – such as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator – are written in the same way.
Take this horoscope, for example: “You are a creative person who enjoys new experiences and will be met with new opportunities to pursue this passion.”
This could apply to many individuals, regardless of their horoscope sign. Because people tend to see themselves in positive terms, they generally want to believe in the accuracy of these horoscopes. It’s easy to interpret this statement as a specific and accurate description of one’s personality.
Astrologers and practitioners of divination often use the Barnum Effect to make predictions applicable to just about anyone who comes their way. Skeptics argue that horoscopes are nothing more than entertainment and should not be taken seriously. (To be fair, most horoscopes come with precisely that warning.)
Despite the criticism, horoscopes remain popular with people of all ages. Many believe that their horoscope sign can provide insight into their strengths, weaknesses, and compatibility with others. And lots of others see it as nothing more than harmless fun.
Horoscopes are not scientific. But they can still be a fun and entertaining way to explore the world of astrology. It’s just important not to put too much stock in their predictions and to remember that you’re in control of your destiny.
Source: “The Barnum Effect: why we love astrology and personality tests” — Ness Labs