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According to the Encyclopedia Britannica : “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.”
The Barnum Effect is also sometimes called the Forer Effect, after psychologist Bertram Forer.In 1948, he administered a fake psychology test to 39 of his psychology students.
One week later, Forer gave each student a purportedly individualised results sheet, and asked each of them to rate it on how well it applied to them. This was the list of statements in the sheet:
Forer asked his students to rate the statements in terms of how well it applied to them, on a scale of 0 for very poor accuracy to 5 for excellent accuracy.
The results? The students rated the personal accuracy of the statements as 4.3 out of 5 on average. That's impressive for a psychology test, isn't it?
You have probably guessed the problem: these fake results were put together by Forer by assembling various bits of copy he had found in a newsstand astrology book, and all students received the same list of statements, rather than a custom one the students were told about.
One of the most important factors when reproducing this study is to keep the statements as vague as possible, with a mix of mostly positive and some negative content.
For example, using the phrase “at times” makes for a powerful Barnum Effect.
“At times you are extroverted and sociable, while at other times you are introverted and reserved” — is it hard to agree with this statement?
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