Astrological Musings

Astrological Musings


Astrology and the Forer Effect

posted by Lynn Hayes

astrology skepticHere is an interesting article about an experiment performed in 1948 by Bertram R. Forer who collected statements from sun sign columns and then presented them to his subjects as though they were personally assessed as part of a personality profile.  Note: “horoscopes” are not sun sign forecasts, the horoscope is the actual map of the sky at a given time – the astrological chart, if you will.

These statements include the following:

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself.

While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them.

You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the 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 also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But 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, and reserved.

Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

The author of this article is correct – these do all apply to everyone to some extent or another.  The Forer Effect is designed to prove something psychologists call “Subjective Validation,” or as the author says, “you are far more vulnerable to suggestion when the subject of the conversation is you.”

The author goes on to write:

Seen straight on, horoscopes describe the sort of things we all experience, but pluck one from the bunch, turn it ever so slightly, and you will see the details, the accuracy. If you believe you live under a sign, and the movement of the planets can divine your future, a general statement becomes specific.
It is the the hope which gives subjective validation its power. If you want the psychic to be real, or the sacred stones to forecast the unknown, you will find a way to believe them even when they falter.
When you want to believe something, when you need something to be true, you will look for patterns; you connect the dots like the stars of a constellation. You will take the random and give it purpose, transmutate the chaotic into the systemic, see chance as fate.
Your brain abhors disorder. You find patterns where there are none, see faces in clouds, demons in bonfires.

Seen straight on, horoscopes describe the sort of things we all experience, but pluck one from the bunch, turn it ever so slightly, and you will see the details, the accuracy. If you believe you live under a sign, and the movement of the planets can divine your future, a general statement becomes specific.

It is the the hope which gives subjective validation its power. If you want the psychic to be real, or the sacred stones to forecast the unknown, you will find a way to believe them even when they falter.

When you want to believe something, when you need something to be true, you will look for patterns; you connect the dots like the stars of a constellation. You will take the random and give it purpose, transmutate the chaotic into the systemic, see chance as fate.

Your brain abhors disorder. You find patterns where there are none, see faces in clouds, demons in bonfires.

This reminds me of the Skeptics Challenge I ran on this blog a few years ago, where I challenged astrology skeptics to get a free mini reading from me to see if they changed their mind.   Several rather sincere skeptics did take me up on my offer and were notably impressed.  One skeptic, however (Paul), took the mini-reading I did for him and posted it on his blog, eliminating the statements that were specific to him and using only the general ones.   

Paul very much wanted to continue the argument, but I have no interest in arguing the rational validity of astrology.  To me the proof is in the pudding.  I’ll be the first one to argue that Sun Sign newspaper columns, which some people call “horoscopes,” are very general.  They are meant to be!  Not all people born under the sign of Aries will have the same experience, the birthchart is too complicated for that to be the case.  Some of those people will have a heavy watery Pisces influence in their chart, others might have earthy Capricorn.  

I do think it’s terribly sad that skeptics refuse to open their mind to the beauty and magic of the Universe.



  • http://astrologicalsoulmates.net Sheryl

    Doing a lot of research myself, it amazes me how many skeptics there are and how so many people are not open. Great post.

  • edna

    Interesting post, Lynn!
    We call those newspaper sun sign columns “horror scopes”.

  • http://matthewastrology.blogspot.com/ Matthew Currie

    What’s really, um, funny about the hardcore “skeptics” is that they don’t seem to realize that The Forer Effect can also be used to dismiss a lot of psychology, sociology, and even economics… all “sciences” to them.
    Hmph. Maybe astrology needs the backing of pharmaceutical companies to get legitimate exposure…? :)

  • Patricia

    Hi Lynn, Thanks for this. I had a skeptic who actually stalked my column on Examiner for weeks…like you I just ignored him but in the end I felt much sympathy for this man who was so closed off from the mysteries and magic in life…really sad.

  • Greg F

    Dear Lynn,
    I became interested in astrology when I was 28, having been trained in math, physics and astronomy in school. I approached it using the scientific method, and found that it worked. No one knows for sure, but I believe the whole Universe is connected via “quantum entanglement,” a fancy term for everything is a part of everything else. That’s why skeptics are wrong when they tell us that the gravity of the moon and the planets is too small to cause any effect. They’re missing the point. It’s not gravity, it’s our kinship with every atom that exists in the Solar system from its very beginning.
    Thanks, as always, for your interesting blogs.

  • http://www.astrodynamics.net Lynn Hayes

    Thanks for these comments – what I have discovered after nearly five years of blogging is that skeptics don’t want to engage in a discussion or discover the magic of astrology. They want you to admit that it can’t be proven, and I will admit that without hesitation. Can you prove that you love your children? Or that certain things make you angry? Science itself is discovering new realities about the Universe that would have been dismissed as preposterous even 50 years ago.

  • http://www.astrococktail.com John Townley

    Skeptics of the sort you allude to cannot see the forest for the trees. They are overwhelmed by specific data, when the pattern is in the larger picture into which that data fits. Even gravity, where they will quote the “inverse square law” while themselves being lifted up by the tide (see http://www.astrococktail.com/moonondeck.html ).

  • Chiron

    I’ve had a few run ins with the species myself. Nasty buggers. Few of them are scientists. Just smart alecs.

  • Wilo

    “Paul very much wanted to continue the argument, but I have no interest in arguing the rational validity of astrology.”
    “what I have discovered after nearly five years of blogging is that skeptics don’t want to engage in a discussion or discover the magic of astrology”
    ???
    “They want you to admit that it can’t be proven” – no, they want you to prove it. Even the vaguest kind of inductive proof would be a good start. When every single study gives results no better than would be expected by chance, the onus is very definitely on you.

  • Paul T

    Hi Believers
    I am a sceptic and will first concede the point about a large (and vocal) minority of sceptics being as guilty of having as closed minds as they accuse astrology believers of having.
    However I have some experience to share and welcome constructive feedback.
    1. Most people inderestimate the power of science
    2. The scientific view of the universe can be seen as cold and hard but there is a beauty in its simple complexity (I explain below).
    Some more details:
    1. One common comment I hear is that science cannot measure the effect of astrology, and often the reson is given that there are other elements (e.g. “elements of earthy capricorn”).
    The argument is that its too complicated to make any predictions capable of bing tested. I maintain that if the predictions are not capable of being tested then that is because they have no predictive power. I.E cannot actually predict anything and are therefore no use to help me explain my own behaviour, or prepare for the future.
    2. Many astrology believers feel sorry for non-believers for the coldness and faithlesness of science. I will concede that to appreciate the beauty of science is not easy, the patterns come together when there is a large body of knowledge available to the person. I have spent many years reading and thinking about physics, chemistry, biology, history, economics and only in the symetries and patterns between them is the beauty of the universe available to me. There are elements of faith in my view as not all the theories are fully developed (although all have a large body of supporting evidence) but I can now see how quantum theory predicts the behaviour of chemicals which in molecular biology can help us see how behaviours and beliefs develop. Tying in evolotion helps to show how society developed and even many of the basic principles of ecomomics.
    Science has let us develop ideas so powerful that we can (somewhat tentitively) link together whole fields of human knowledge and experience. Probe the truth behind statements while leaving behind many of our prejidices and demontrate its usefulness by allowing us to build computers and travel to the moon.
    In conclusion:
    Science has achieved a lot, can expain so much and has a beauty due to its scope, simplicity and power. Please do not dismiss its methods just because some (I hope not incuding me) sceptics are blind and dogmatic.
    I would be happy to work with you to design an experiment to test the power of astrology, I concede that the experiments so far (which tend to show that atrology has at best a very limited usefulness) do not yet constitude a proof of the uselessness of astrology.
    I would also love to find that astrology is real, if so then whole new fields of science would open up. Imagine the beauty of a theory that could explain the motion of the stars and the behaviour of people at the same time.
    However the idea of science that experiment is the only test of a theory must hold. This is what prevents us from holding ideas that have been shown to be false. Any true scientist faced with a large body of double blind trials which show a significant predictive power for astrology would concede that their previous (sceptical) view is false.
    Being a scientist is about being open to ideas you do not like. That is practicaly the definition of science. If the scientific community has tested astrology and found it to lack predictive power then that does tell us something. However there remain many who are willing to perform more experiments in the hope of either finding some truth to the ideas or forever putting them to bed. And for me either would be progress.
    Paul

  • Inese

    Why do people believe in zodiac signs? and even go as far as judging you based on your date of birth. They automatically start comparing you to other people they have met in the past that had the same sign as you. Whether this person is anything like you or not it doesn’t matter they will find things that make you like that person.
    I invite you to lie about your zodiac sign, date of birth and see the results you get. Once you do this you will immediately find how zodiac signs are bs.
    Just go and make a google search and you will find the following:
    Why is this Virgo guy ignoring me?
    Why is this Scorpio guy ignoring me after everything was fine?
    Why are Aries men so weird?
    Why are Pisces guys so weird?
    The saddest part is that most if not all of these post are made by women. As if the zodiac sign of the jerk off you are dating is going to explain his lack of interest. The guy obviously doesn’t like you and it’s not going to change even if he’s a Leo or a Taurus. If he doesn’t like you, he just doesn’t like you. Stop thinking that the reason he is acting the way he is is because of his sign. Horoscope, Zodiac signs are bs and you sound crazy when you think it’s real. If a guy is a decent guy he wont ignore you, even if he is a Taurus and you read somewhere that Taurus guys are the ignoring kind.
    Honestly I just find it really annoying for us, the people who don’t believe in that crap to be judged on our date of birth.
    I’m a female by the way and I have been in situations where a guy would ask me my sign so I always lie and right away they will be like wow you are so much like whatever sign I made up. It’s really pathetic………….PLEASE STOP!!!Why do people believe in Zodiac signs

  • Priti Kapoor

    Well, it’s true and i am happy to read this post!

    keep updating!
    Astrologer in India

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