Sunday, April 1

Barnum Statements

Phineas Taylor Barnum

In 1948, psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave a personality test to his students and told them that they are each receiving a unique analysis based on the test's results which he asked the studends to rate on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) on how well it applied to themselves. However, each student actually received the same analysis:  
"You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure 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 pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life."
 The students did not know that they had received identical copies assembled by Forer from various horoscopes till after rating the analysis. On average, the rating that students gave to the analysis was 4.26.

As you can see the analysis consisted of various statements that could easily apply equally to anyone. These statements were later named Barnum statements.

Further studies on Barnum Statements have found that subjects give higher accuracy ratings only if the subject believes that the analysis applies to him or her, the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator and the analysis lists mainly positive traits.

In today's world barnum statements are a widely used tool. Newspaper astrologers - horoscope writers - use barnum statements to make their thin made-up facts apply to as large an audience as possible. Barnum statements are also widely used among mentalists, psychics, fortune-teller and illusionists.

Why do people believe barnum statements?

People intend to believe these statements because they are usually so generally worded that there practically is nothing to disagree with.

If you want to read more about Barnum Statements, I would recommend an article by EZ Psychology - Barnum Statements.

If you want to experience the forer effect then try this test put together merely to demonstrate the forer effect and Barnum statements.