The Forer effect, also known as the Barnum effect, occurs when a person accepts a statement about themselves as valid, believing it to come from a reliable source.
In other words, people fall prey to the self-validation fallacy and accept that their own generalizations may be valid for any individual.
Definition and examples
The name of the creator of the Forer effect is the psychologist Bertram R. Forer , who discovered, through an experiment, that many people accepted for themselves personal descriptions that seemed true. This happened, for example, in personality tests.
This experiment was carried out in 1948, and consisted of taking a sample of students who had to take a personality test.
In this way, a list of statements was provided to them as the final result of the evaluation, asking them to analyze these results to verify if they were true or not.
Result of the applied personality test
What the students never imagined is that they all had the same result.
Each response was rated on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.
The experiment showed that the group’s evaluation was 4.26, demonstrating that everyone considered what they said to be correct. Thus, they believed what was said really corresponded with their personality.
Since then this study of the Forer effect has been done several times and the result is always the same.
Pay attention to two elements!
It is worth remembering that, when applying this evaluation, it is necessary to take into account two important elements:
- The data or specification that is delivered for the test is fundamental and valuable, intensely fulfilling the existing proportion between the positive and negative characteristics.
- The subject must believe in the person conducting the study.
In view of the illusory effect of the Forer effect, it is very important that people do not get carried away by so-called pseudosciences (eg tarot reading). Also, it’s not worth believing the tests that appear in magazines, which make you think that the results that appear determine your personality.
The best thing to do for anyone who needs advice or help is to go to a professional , that is, a therapist or psychologist trained to carry out a reliable assessment.
How does the Forer Effect work?
As we said, if you are more open to the Forer Effect you can become more aware of situations in which that description is fulfilled. If a fortune teller reads her palm and tells you that you are a dreamer, your memory should soon remind you of all your dreams to say “look, she’s right”. This is due to other biases that reinforce this effect, such as confirmation bias and attentional bias .
The same is true of certain spiritual gurus, prophets and telepaths. We are not, however, making any value judgments here – that is, saying whether any of the examples cited here are true or not.
The only point we focus on is that, contrary to what you think, your belief in these examples (as in astrology) derives less from a rational observation of their practical influence and more from a psychological phenomenon of its own.
The Forer Effect has been known since the last century, when described by the American psychologist Bertram R. Forer. Thanks to the association with the work of showman PT Barnum, this bias is also called the Barnum Effect (or Barnum Effect, in English).
There is, however, no consensus, so the two terms are confused both in online articles and in academic research.
To deepen your knowledge about the Forer Effect, we also have an article with the Barnum Effect as the main term. Again: both deal with the same psychological phenomenon, just with different names.
How to avoid falling victim to the Forer effect?
Knowledge is power! Therefore, just knowing what the Forer effect is can help you avoid falling into the traps of pseudoscience.
Be someone who researches, learns and discards weak sources. This way you will be safer to select dubious information. Also, look for solid evidence. An online test can’t tell you much about you and your behaviors, but psychologists have psychometric tools that can help.
It is very worthwhile to read between the lines the intentions of those who are trying to make you believe what they are saying. It is also important to discern what are vague and general statements. All this will help you determine the reliability of an instrument.
Definition of Pseudoscience in the Forer effect
Beliefs that lack scientific rigor or are not supported by evidence are popularly known as “pseudoscience”.
In view of this, the main characteristic of this type of practice is that it cannot be claimed as true. This is because there are no reliable ways to demonstrate the veracity of what it proposes.
It is even possible to say on this subject that the people who most believe in and follow pseudoscience are those who do not have a severe inclination towards the truth.
See how not to fall into the Forer effect
Keep in mind that the Forer effect can be difficult to spot because it involves trust and generalizations. How can you not believe information that doesn’t seem wrong and that came from someone who doesn’t inspire doubts? If you have this doubt, see below what leads someone to fall into the Forer effect. Be careful not to make this mistake.
- Perception that it fits the diagnosis (this only happens because it is based on vague statements that are valid for anyone);
- Trust in the authority of the person making the diagnosis or source of information.
- Valuation of information, which is considered satisfactory. However, this only happens if they have a positive meaning.
Know that you are only convinced of this type of statement because it is prepared for you to fall into the trap.
Be careful! Despite science being the highest knowledge available to human beings, many people feel a strong attraction for doctrines that are totally distant from scientific criteria.
Thus, they believe in the mysterious forces that govern the world and in the influence of the stars in their lives. More than that, they believe in all kinds of proposals that involve the existence of invisible energies that pull the strings of our existence. Although these explanations of life are very attractive, avoid being fooled by the Forer effect .