What do astrology, fortune telling, and cold reading have in common? They all exploit the Barnum Effect to convince people that the statements are personal to them.
The statements are so vague, we interpret our own meaning, sometimes feeling in awe of their accuracy. “That’s so me!” you may think while reading your horoscope. Well, yes, the statement seems to align with your lived experience, because it is designed to align with anyone’s experience.
It takes practice to avoid the Barnum Effect. After all, hucksters have had centuries to hone their craft. But once you know the signs, they are easy to notice. Practice going through the Barnum Effect checklist when you read or hear something that feels strangely personal, and let your friends know they should probably not base big life decisions on their horoscope.
“The Barnum Effect is the phenomenon that occurs when individuals believe that personality descriptions apply specifically to them, despite the fact that the description is actually filled with information that applies to everyone.”