The Barnum (or Forer) Effect is most associated with horoscopes and "cold readings." It occurs when people rate personal assessments about their character or life as highly accurate even when those assessments are so general or vague that they could apply or be true for almost anybody. There is also a sense that people will believe some things to be true simply because they really want those things to be true. When people are told exactly what they want to hear, they don't often ask for or need proof to believe what they are told.
Looking at Two Examples
If a fortune teller were to say, "I know in your past that you've had conflict with your parents that greatly upset you," you would probably answer, "Yes, that is so true." But, if you think about it, there would be very few people out there for whom this wouldn't also be equally true. This is the so vague it could be applied to anyone.
This also occurs outside the fortune telling and horoscope world. If your consultant says, "The other estimates are way off. I know my company can do it for half that price," you may believe them without question simply because you have a strong desire for that statement to be true. The statement, though, hasn't been accompanied by any proof. Sometimes we believe what people say simply because we just really, really want it to be true.
When It Could Apply to Anyone or It Fits Too Well Into What You Want to Hear
Knowing the Barnum or Forer Effect means looking at what people are saying to you and asking, "Is this really true or is it so general it could be true for anybody?" It also means being able to be honest with yourself and ask, "Is this person just telling me what I want to hear? Where is the proof?"
Be able to listen without checking your intellect at the door. Learn to see the Barnum (Forer) Effect.
Fridays – Flaws in Thinking
There are some common errors in thinking (more formally called cognitive distortions and biases) that can get in the way of healthy and helpful thinking. Each Friday, you will learn a new term to help in seeing your own thinking more clearly.
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