The horoscope is a scam: we explain why
The horoscope and astrology are used in a very usual way to predict the future . There are many newspapers and websites that obtain a significant number of readers because they include daily predictions based on the zodiacal sign, not always following the "official" mathematical and astrological methods.
However, not only the interpretations of newspapers and websites are highly susceptible to being false, but the horoscope itself is a scam; we explain why using very basic psychological concepts.
What is the horoscope?
"Horoscope" is a term of Greek origin; "Horoskopos" comes from the words "hõra" (which translates as "time") and "skopeo" ("examine", "observe").
The word refers to the pseudoscientific system used to predict the future of a person based on the positions of the stars in his birth or in another special moment. Those who interpret these signs are called astrologers.
In Western astrology the predictions are based on the position of the sun, while in the Chinese horoscope the moon is also taken into account since it is based on a lunisolar calendar and not on a solar one.
What are the signs of the zodiac?
The astral chart is divided into 12 sectors representing different positions of the Ecliptic , that is, the apparent path that the sun makes around the earth when it is observed from it. Each of these segments is identified with a zodiacal sign.
The signs of the zodiac represent the 12 constellations of the Ecliptic. Each of them is attributed different characteristics that are supposed to influence the psychology of people born at the time when the Sun passed through a certain sector of the Ecliptic.
Each sign is assigned a "positive" or "negative" pole (extroverted and active versus introverted and passive) and an element (water, air, earth or fire). Other important elements besides the zodiacal signs are the planets, which are also said to influence the personality, and the so-called "houses", which determine the relative influence of each planet on the psychology of the person .
How is it interpreted?
The birth chart is calculated using the exact date of the person's birth, including hour and minutes, and the latitude and longitude of the place where it was produced.
The calculations of the astral chart have the objective of situating the "Right Ascension of the Midheaven", which supposedly determines which planets influenced our personality at the moment we were born.
Within astrology it is considered that the interpretations made using only the position of the planets have no validity: according to experts in the horoscope it is necessary to make a series of mathematical calculations in a certain order. Howeveror most of the time these prescriptions are ignored, especially in newspapers and websites .
Numerous studies with scientific methodology have been carried out to study the hypotheses proposed by astrology and the horoscope, including longitudinal studies with reliable control techniques.
None of these studies has found that the likelihood of the stars influencing our psychology be superior to having a personality trait determined by chance. Therefore, we can say that the scientific bases of the horoscope are null since there is enough evidence to affirm that the position of the stars at birth does not influence the personality.
Since astrology, various mechanisms have been proposed by which the stars could influence our behavior, such as electromagnetism and gravity, but are hardly plausible from a physical point of view.
Due to these reasons the horoscope and astrology are classified within the term "Esotericism", referring to practices not based on science but on apparently arbitrary methods whose learning requires to be trained by supposed experts.
Although from the science in general it is demonstrated that the horoscope is a scam or at least that its predictions are not based on reality, contributions from psychology are needed to explain why so many people think it works .
The Forer effect
Scientific studies have shown that people often identify with very vague personality descriptions if they are told that they describe us specifically. This is known as "Forer effect" or "Barnum effect".
Bertram R. Forer was a psychologist who had his students fill out a personality test . Then he gave them a supposed description of each one's personality, asking them to value from 0 to 5 to what extent they felt identified with him; the average result was 4.2.
In fact, Forer had given them all the same description based on horoscopes. The text included extremely vague statements such as "Although you have flaws, you can usually compensate them" or "Sometimes you are outgoing, affable and sociable but other times you are introverted, cautious and reserved".
curiouslyIn other similar studies it has been shown that people tend to identify more with descriptions of this type , including those of some personality tests, that with the results of psychological tests supported by science.
This is because we believe more easily what the people we consider experts say and the ambiguous phrases allow us to interpret the descriptions in a subjective way, projecting a personal meaning to their statements. Probably also influenced by the fact that horoscopes in general tell us positive things, while the same does not always happen with serious personality tests.
The confirmation bias
We call "confirmation bias" or "confirmatory bias" to the tendency that people have to prefer information that confirms our beliefs over that which supports alternative hypotheses, which we ignore much more easily.
In the horoscope and other aspects of Esotericism the confirmation bias manifests itself very frequently . Normally when we read a horoscope or a "professional" we read the Tarot cards reach us a large number of statements, among which we will pay more attention to those that seem to fit with our self-image. In addition we will remember to a greater extent the phrases that "right" when describing us.
The confirmatory bias is constantly occurring in our life. Whenever we search, receive, remember or interpret information we are involuntarily favoring the points of view we already had. The only way to avoid this error of reasoning to some degree is to be actively aware of when we are committing it.
If you believe in the horoscope, probably when you read this you would prefer to think that the one who is wrong is the scientists who have systematically studied the hypotheses of astrology and not you; This is a good example of confirmation bias.
The horoscope is just another scam
There are many pseudosciences, that is, disciplines that present themselves as scientifically plausible but that do not really follow the scientific method and do not pretend to do so. In general these esoteric practices are based on false premises and / or use arbitrary methods.
It is important to make clear that, while sciences are considered as such because their perspectives are derived from prior scientific knowledge, pseudosciences make similar claims but do not have a solid research body that endorses them, so that in many cases they try to take advantage of the status that confers the qualifier "scientific" without having been able to prove its hypothesis.
The confirmation bias and the Forer effect, which have been amply demonstrated by science, can be enough to claim that the horoscope is a scam , if we add them to the studies that have refuted the hypothesis that the position of the stars at the time of birth influences the personality.