Is It Really Written In The Stars?

As human beings, we have this inherent curiosity to know more and more about ourselves. What makes me unique? Cue zodiac signs. Moon signs, sun signs, cardinal signs and I don’t know anymore of these signs, but I do know that learning all about your zodiac sign is an interest of millions of people around the world. In many countries, like India, many marriages are decided based on the compatibility of our moon signs. The thing is, astrology is known as a pseudoscience, i.e it cannot be tested in a standardised fashion. So why are there people that cannot start their day without reading their horoscope?

Personally, I don’t believe in astrology but it is pretty interesting to me. And when I find something interesting, I can be a bit obsessive with research. Anyway, I’m considered your typical, fiery Aries which I found out at the age of 12. I was hooked. I had an abundance of information of what my personality is, all based on my birthday! Let’s not forget how the stars can tell me how my future looks! This, then, graduated into those moments where I’ve fallen deep into that rabbit hole. I know I’m not alone in this. All you strong outspoken skeptics out there, I know you’re scoffing at this, thinking “How naive can she be?” But I can bet my right arm that you’ve snuck a peek or two out of curiosity as well. Also, I did admit, I get quite obsessive while researching something.

Now, you see, at the age of 26, I’m a firm believer in the opinion that you pave your own way through your choices and actions, but like I said, astrology has definitely tickled my interest to some point. Sometimes when I pick up the newspaper, I’ll still find myself going to the daily horoscopes just to get a glimpse of what the stars apparently have in store for me, and to my surprise, I notice that the description fits accurately with whatever may be going on in my life at that moment. Or so I think. After all, humans are known to be quite gullible at times.

The Barnum Effect

“A sucker is born every minute.”

-P.T Barnum

The Barnum Effect, or also known as the Forer Effect, is a psychological phenomenon in which people tend to believe that a personality description applies specifically to them, when in reality, it’s vague and general enough to apply to the masses. The name Barnum effect is, in fact, inspired by the American showman and businessman, P.T Barnum, who is best known for the way he manipulated the audience through a number of celebrated hoaxes. You may have seen the movie based on him-The Greatest Showman.

P.T Barnum

I read an interesting research the other day, in which the researchers had presented skeptics and astrology believers some generalised personality descriptions. Some of these descriptions were attributed to astrology. Interestingly enough, it was reported that the favourable descriptions were determined as the most accurate as compared to the unfavourable descriptions, by both the groups. If that’s not proof of a cognitive bias, then I don’t know what is!

The Barnum Effect funnily dominates our lives in many ways unknowingly. For example:

  1. The crazy amount of “personality” quizzes available, like- “What kind of a pizza are you?” (I’m a classic Margherita pizza if anyone is interested.)
  2. Doesn’t Spotify make you feel special when it curates a custom made playlist just for you? Or what about when Netflix understands exactly what kind of movie you may like to watch?

I’m starting to wonder if Barnum was right. At the end of the day maybe we all are just a bunch of suckers.

Until next time,

Sneha

References:
  1. Glick, P., Gottesman, D., & Jolton, J. (1989). The fault is not in the stars: Susceptibility of skeptics and believers in astrology to the Barnum effect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 15(4), 572-583.

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