The Forer Effect

As astrologers, we are constantly faced with skeptics.  That’s fine and healthy.  We can’t expect everyone to think the same way we do about everything.  However, there are times where astrology and the art of interpreting charts or consultations is looked down on for reasons different from general skepticism.  The way in which readings are conducted and how vague and open the responses and reading tend to be leaves things open for the Forer Effect.  For those who don’t know what this is, it’s basically where people will give accuracy claims to interpretations that they think are made specifically for them, but are really so vague and general that they could apply to a wide range of people.

This generally comes into play with modern astrology as it tends to be character analysis with little, if any, statements made that could be objectively confirmed.  Here is the exact wording of the character analysis results that psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave to the participants of his study.

“You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure 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 pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.”

All of the participants received the same response, and the average rating as to the accuracy was a 4.6 out of 5.  What does this tell us about astrology as character analysis?  First, it shows us our main problem when it comes to meeting skeptics ideas.  Uninformed skeptics are quick to point out newspaper horoscopes and the ridiculous implication that everyone in the world has to have one of 12 different kinds of days.  We counter by telling them that newspaper horoscopes aren’t “real” astrology, but then when we do character analysis through psychological astrology, we just do the same thing that newspaper horoscopes are doing.  The above response looks like 95% of astrological cookbook interpretations for bread and butter planet in sign in house readings.  It’s not getting any better.

To make it even better, later studies found that participants were even more likely to agree with the fibbed results if they believed in the authority of the person delivering them and if it listed mainly positive traits.  This sounds familiar…

The more we rely on character analysis and psychological reports, the more negative light we seem to cast on astrology.  A more predictive, as opposed to analytical, approach might be more appropriate.  Less financially secure, certainly, but less open to interpretation and attack and the less it comes across as a great big con.

This blog gives a good list of things necessary to be a good con artist, for people who don’t need to be astrologers at all to sound like many professional and well known astrologers themselves.  I thought it was pretty funny and clever, but really, it’s no laughing matter.

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