Forer effect: why do some divination tricks work?
Many people are surprised that, although they lack scientific basis, the different systems of divination that claim to describe our lives may come close to reality.
How do you explain that some divination tricks seem to work?
How can it be that, from a seemingly arbitrary criterion such as a roll of cards, own characteristics can be portrayed? Where is the trick? Although the different esoteric disciplines can not offer any explanation about this that is subject to falsification of results, psychology has provided a construct based on experimentation that clarifies this phenomenon. That construct is what we know today as Forer effect .
An experiment that showed the farce of divination
In 1948, the American psychologist Bertram R. Forer provided a personality test to his students. Then, the teacher gave each of the students a card with the results of the personality analysis. After this, he asked the students to rate from 0 to 5 the accuracy with which, in his opinion, the personality analysis portrayed them, being 0 "very poor" and 5 "excellent". The average of the scores was 4,26 .
The surprise of the students must have been capitalized when Forer revealed to them that, in fact, they had all been given the same result. The individualized personality analysis was not such and, in fact, the text that was delivered to the students was no more than a single compilation of sentences extracted from horoscopes :
"You need other people to appreciate and admire you, and yet you are critical of yourself. Although your personality has some weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a considerable unused capacity that you have not taken advantage of. Although disciplined and self-controlled to the outside, you tend to be apprehensive and insecure on the inside. Sometimes you have serious doubts about whether you have done well or made the right decisions. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and you feel disappointed when you are surrounded by restrictions and limitations. You are also proud to be an independent thinker; and of not accepting the affirmations of the others without sufficient evidence. But you find it unwise to be very frank in revealing yourself to others. Sometimes you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while other times you are introverted, cautious and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be quite unrealistic. "
In short, the Forer Effect is nothing more than the manifestation of a form of cognitive prejudice . It shows the propensity to accept as original and proper descriptions that in reality are ambiguous and general enough to preach from virtually anyone. Thanks to this tendency, Forer managed to pass as an original a "personality reading" that is characterized precisely by its lack of precision when talking about the attributes that a person can have, but that in any case surprised the students for his faithful reflection of reality.
In addition, this experiment has been repeated many more times, obtaining very similar results (the people evaluated do not usually score with less than a 4 out of 5 the precision of the analysis). Thanks to these experiments we know that there are three factors that, when they occur, make the Forer effect more pronounced:
- When, apparently, the analysis is customized .
- When the analysis shows especially positive aspects that the evaluated person values as positive.
- When the person evaluated gives authority to the evaluator .
Interpretation of the Forer effect
The Explanation why this happens is usually related to desirability and expectations. On the one hand, there is a tendency to give greater credibility to satisfactory explanations of reality, compared to others that do not satisfy us as much. In addition, the expectations of obtaining a personality analysis create a propensity to accept the results.
On the other hand, we make an explanation that gives meaning to our experiences, and from that position we accept the information that fits well with that explanation while we deny or ignore the information that contradicts it: this is known as the confirmation bias.
Knowing how the Forer effect works, it is easy to imagine why in some circles there is acceptance of some disciplines of fortune telling as the astrology . Its esoteric character makes it seem that only a few people know how divination works, giving the fortune teller a role of authority.
The ambiguity It is a letter that is always played, because the person evaluated will tend to give meaning to explanations that are not precise but wide and comprehensive: this is especially clear in the case of horoscopes. In the case of real-time divination sessions, ambiguous assertions at the beginning allow collecting information from the evaluated subject, and therefore it is possible to dare to specify more by advancing the session.