www.whyville.net Jan 19, 2014 Weekly Issue

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The Forer Effect

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Do you tend to be calm and composed on the outside, even when you feel troubled and worried on the inside? Do you find that you're shy around people at first but are eventually able to be more outgoing around them? Do you tend to be critical of yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might be a victim of the Forer effect! Also called the Barnum effect, the Forer effect refers to our tendency to overgeneralize or to see ourselves in very general statements.

The psychologist who discovered this effect, Bertram R. Forer, demonstrated this phenomenon with his own students. He gave a personality test to each student and told them that after the test was completed, he would look at the results and give them each a unique analysis describing their personality. In reality, he gave each of his students the exact same analysis that included some very general statements. He had the students rate their analysis on a scale of 0 (this does not describe me at all) to 5 (this really describes me) and found that the average of these scores was approximately 4.26. In other words, the majority of the students felt that their analysis represented their personality well, even though everyone had the same one.

The Forer effect is present everywhere today. The majority of horoscopes or fortunes that you receive from fortune cookies include the Forer effect. If you read the horoscopes of astrological signs that are not your own, you will notice that they still apply to you in some way. Even some personality tests have been accused of producing results similar to the Forer effect, and some have even argued that the criteria used to diagnose mental illnesses has a Forer component to it.

As a way of testing this theory out on your own, read off a random horoscope to your friends and ask them if it applies to them. What you're likely to find is that it will apply to the majority of them, despite the fact that they all have different astrological signs.


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