The Barnum effect

I’m a massive believer in star signs. I’m sorry, I just am. I know there are only 12 star signs and by that logic it means that everyone on the planet falls into one of 12 personality types, and but that logic that sounds insane. However, when I read the character traits for a Leo, it’s me to a tee. Like scarily accurate. Similarly, Ang is without a doubt a typical Gemini and I will fight anyone who tries to suggest that Carrie isn’t the postergirl for Aries.

All of this, however, was pointed out to me as very likely to be the Barum effect, and that, because I’m the kind of space cadet who believes in star signs anyway, I would probably look at the qualities of any star sign and equate them to me and my personality. So I thought I’d put that theory to the test with the table below, and to make it even more scientifically sound, I asked Dave to highlight the personality traits that he thought were like me, without telling him they were related to star signs (he’s a non believer – typical Pisces)

What’s interesting, I think anyway. Is that Dave picked traits that are prominently Cancer and Leo (highlighted in green). Now, despite believing I’m Leo through and through, I’m an early Leo, and the sign directly before me is Cancer, so perhaps I’m not the staunch Leo I thought I was, but I’m definitely a July sign almost 100%.

Sadly it’s something we’re all a bit guilty of; looking for vague analogies that support our existing beliefs or opinions, and you will have felt it first hand if you’ve never been embroiled in a brexit argument with anyone!

The Meyers-Briggs psychometric test can also be an example of the Barnum Effect since it categorised people into one of 16 different personality types and, like with star signs, how can the 8 billion people on earth be one of only 16 pockets? I however and an ENFJ to a tee, like worryingly so, so I choose to believe it. Funnily enough as you may have guessed, the Barnum Effect was named after PT Barnum because of the vague psychological tests the showman would give.

Something else that I’ve been acutely aware of recently and very similar to the Barnum Effect is Frequency Illusion. You know like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see that car everywhere. More recently I’ve been well aware of it’s presence as I prepare for some surgery next week and all I see on TV or hear on the radio is stories of surgery or hospitals or complications! I swear there’s never normally that much operation chat on TV! So of course here I am sitting thinking that it’s all a sign that I should cancel my surgery or that something will go wrong.

It’s a form of cognitive bias (which I’ve written about before) and is essentially when you notice something for the first time, you have a tendency to notice it more frequently, leading you to believe it’s happening more often. There have always been the same amount of Kia Picanto’s on the road, you just notice them more now because you have one! It’s largely harmless theory however can apparently cause problems in the legal world as frequency illusion can affect eyewitness accounts which I find really interesting!

I’m not sure what purpose this serves other than to convince myself that it’s ok to believe in stars signs, which in itself is probably a form of the Barum Effect, it’s like inception isn’t it?! I guess the bottom line is believe in whatever you want to believe in, you know, within the parameters of the law. And if you ever want to disprove your husbands opinion, it can be done quite easily with and excel spreadsheet.

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