The Forer/Barnum Effect

The Barnum or Forer effect is the tendency for people to judge that general, universally valid statements about personality are actually specific descriptions of their own personalities.

Psychic, Zoltar, Forer Effect, Barnum Effect, Psychology

A “universally valid” statement is one that is true of everyone or, nearly everyone. It is not known why people tend to make such misjudgements, but the effect has been experimentally reproduced.

‘Barnum Statements’ are generalised phrases which seem personal and hence make use of the Forer Effect.

Examples include:

“I sense that you are sometimes insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well.”

“You have a box of old unsorted photographs in your house.”

“You had an accident when you were a child involving water.”

“You’re having problems with a friend or relative.”

Resources:

http://www.fallacyfiles.org/ptbarnum.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertram_R._Forer

http://www.qi.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=11414&start=0&sid=1e4241d99107aeefa1c5a0c506e0dddb

Image credit: Jonathan Gleich

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