Before I start talking about the Barnum effect, let me tell you that I know a lot about you. Allow me to talk about you!
– 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 potential, which you have not turned to your advantage.
– While you have
some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
– Your sexual
adjustment has presented problems for you.
– Disciplined and
self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on
– At times, you have
serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right
– 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
– 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, reserved.
– Security is one of your major goals in life.
– Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty
Can you find
yourself in the text above? Yes? Well, you’re not the only person in this
situation. All those who read the text find themselves to a lesser or greater
This is the Barnum
The Forer (or
Barnum) effect is a term used in psychology that defines the tendency of people
to accept very general or vague characterizations of themselves as being very
A good example of
this can be seen in people who think they are true and exactly match
descriptions of those who guess them in coffee, tarot, astrological predictions
or other bizarre practices.
“A sucker is
born every minute,” said Phineas Taylor Barnum, the discoverer of the
circus, and the one after whom this effect was called.
psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave a number of 39 students a personality test,
then asked them to assess the degree of veracity of the profile described.
Students evaluated the accuracy of their own personality profile on a scale of
0 to 5, where 0 was considered a profile that did not correspond to any of
their own personalities, and 5 had a perfect correspondence with their own
personality. The average of these ratings was 4.2. Then students were asked to
raise their hands if the test was considered to be an appropriate and accurate
tool in describing their own personality. All students raised their hand, being
convinced of the veracity of the instrument. They later found out that they had
the same interpretation.
The Barnum effect
has some explanations. According to researchers, it seems that, first of all,
we like flattering and discourses that value us. Then, often, we do not
perceive in an analysis anything other than that which suits us or favors us.
Thus, we abstain from elements that do not characterize us, although they are
mentioned. The effect also increases when people think they have a particular
description made for them, when the description is more favorable than
unfavorably, when the description is not specific, and the characteristics and
traits mentioned are common in the population from which they were selected as
subjects. All these features are met when the horoscope is presented to us. We
do not even have to be careful to see which sign is coming. Anyway, all the
signs fit us.
The effect of Barnum
is a technique that is also the basis of palm reading, predictions, and other
forms of past or predictive predictions.
Those who claim to
have paranormal powers exploit this technique along with cold reading, a set of
techniques by which relevant information is obtained by general assertions, by
observing body language and subject’s reactions.
This effect appears
to a greater extent in the case of people with a particular need for approval
or tendencies of obedience, conformism to authority. Those are people who take
things as they are, because they can not do anything anyway, things are predestined
to be so. The truth is, no matter how unique we are, we have the same quests,
the same dilemmas and the same cognitive viruses.
In order not to let
this effect deceive us, I think it is important to keep in mind Forer’s words:
individual is a unique configuration of characteristics, each of which can be
found in everyone, but in varying degrees.”