The Skeptic's Dictionary

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Forer effect
The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as
highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to ma
ny people.
Psychologist Bertram R. Forer (1914-2000) found that people tend to accept vague
and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves witho
ut realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone. Co

nsider the following as if it were given to you as an evaluation of your persona lity. The test has been repeated hundreds of time with ps ychology students and the average is still around 4. He asked them to evaluate the evaluation from 0 to 5.2 out of 5. wishful thinking. Astrology. Subjects who see k counseling from psychics.. however. though his personality analysis was taken from a newsstand astrology column and was presented to people without regard to their s un sign. rumpology. Bu t you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.26. In short. is of little scientific value. We tend to accept questionable. and gave e ach student the above evaluation. in many cases. if we deem them positive or flattering en ough. even false statements about ourselves. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside . cartoman cy." We will often fill in the blanks and provide a coherent pictu re of what we hear and see. Scientific studies of these pseudosciences demonstrate that they are not valid personality assessment tools. Such subje ctive validation. Peo ple tend to accept claims about themselves in proportion to their desire that th e claims be true rather than in proportion to the empirical accuracy of the clai ms as measured by some non-subjective standard. with "5" meaning the recipient felt the evaluation was an "excellent" as sessment and "4" meaning the assessment was "good. You have a need for other people to like and admire you. mind readers.. The Forer effect seems to explain. and reserved. Many such subjects often feel their counselors have provided them with profound and personal information. and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. At t imes you are extroverted. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unreal istic. why so many people think that pseudosciences "work". Psychologist Barry Beyerstein believes that "hope and uncertainty evoke powerful psychological processes that keep all occult and pseudoscientific character rea ders in business. vanity and the tendency to try to make sense out of e xperience. will provide most of the information they erroneously attribute to a pseudoscientific counselor. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. by t heir own words or actions. and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You also pride yourself as an independ ent thinker. Forer gave a personality test to his students. astrotherapy. in part at least. wary. even though a careful examination of the evidence wo uld reveal that the data is vague. though Forer's own explanation was in terms of human gullibility. chiromancy. ignored their answers. mediums." The class average evaluation was 4. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when h emmed in by restrictions and limitations. While you have some personality weaknesses you are general ly able to compensate for them. The most common explanations given to account for the Forer effect are in terms of hope. will often ask so many disconnected a . We will often give very liberal interpretations to vague or inconsistent c laims about ourselves in order to make sense out of the claims. you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. graphology. fortune telling. That was in 1948. biorhythms. will often ignore false or questionable claims and. affable. see m to work because they seem to provide accurate personality analyses. for example. confusing. while at other times you are in troverted. the enneagram. etc. You have considerable unused capacity that you h ave not turned to your advantage. etc. obscure." We are constantly trying "to make sense out of the barrage of disconnected information we face daily" and "we become so good at filling in to make a reasonable scenario out of disjointed input that we sometimes make sense out of nonsense. Psychic mediums. inconsistent and even uni ntelligible. fortune tellers. graphologist s. and sociable. yet each has many satisfied customers who are convinced they are accurate. Forer convinced people he could successfully read their character. His accuracy amazed his subjects. or 84% accurate.

Psy chics are aided in this process by using cold reading techniques. some are specific. (Note: the proposed test also uses subjective or personal validation and is not intended to test the accu racy of any personality assessment tool. Barry Beyerstein suggests the following test to determine whether the apparent v alidity of the pseudosciences mentioned above might not be due to the Forer effe ct. This self-perpetuating mecha nism consolidates the original error and builds up an overconfidence in which th e arguments of opponents are seen as too fragmentary to undo the adopted belief. Some of those tha t are specific actually apply to large numbers of people and some. need for approval. especially one that resolves uncomfortabl e uncertainty. Also. it should be admitted that while many of the assessment claims in a pseu doscientific reading are vague and general. A certain number of specific assess ment claims should be expected by chance. and to discount evidence to the contrary. on average. Favorable assessments are "more r eadily accepted as accurate descriptions of subjects' personalities than unfavor able" ones. and selective thinking also underlie these delusions . Unfortunately. should be able to exceed chance in choosing the ir own from the pile. it biases the observer to notice new information that confirms th e belief. only partially explains why so many people accept as accurate occult and pseudoscientific character assessment procedures. There have been numerous studies done on the Forer effect. communal reinforcement. David Marks and Richard Kamman argue that once a belief or expectation is found. There is also some evidence tha t personality variables such as neuroticism. or other psychological factors. But unfavorable claims are "more readily accepted when delivered by people with high perceived status than low perceived status." The Forer effect. Furthermore. wi ll be accurate descriptions of a select few. . Having a pseudoscientific counselor go over a character assessment with a client is wrought with snares that can easily lead the most well intentioned of person s into error and delusion. Cold readi ng. however. After all clients had read all of the anonymous per sonality sketches. the psychic need not have any insights into the subject's personal life. In fact.) …a proper test would first have readings done for a large number of clients and th en remove the names from the profiles (coding them so they could later be matche d to their rightful owners). but rather is intended to counteract th e tendency to self-deception about such matters. Dickson and Kelly hav e examined many of these studies and concluded that overall there is significant support for the general claim that Forer profiles are generally perceived to be accurate by subjects in the studies. there is an increased accepta nce of the profile if it is labeled "for you". for. Beyerstein notes that "no occult or pseudoscientific character reading method…has successfully passed such a test. mos t Forer studies have been done only on college students. m embers of the group." It has also been f ound that subjects can generally distinguish between statements that are accurat e (but would be so for large numbers of people) and those that are unique (accur ate for them but not applicable to most people). the subject will wi llingly and unknowingly provide all the associations and validations needed.nd ambiguous questions in rapid succession that they give the impression of havi ng access to personal knowledge about their subjects. by chance. each would be asked to pick the one that described him or her best. confirmation bias. and authoritaria nism are positively related to belief in Forer-like profiles. If the reader has actually included enough uniquely pertinent material.

(1949) "The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A classroom Demonstrat ion of Gullibility." Rowland. Randi. Flim-Flam! (Buffalo. NOVA. H. Ray. Myers-Briggs Type Indic ator. subjective validation. "Secrets of the Psychics.116-165. further reading books and articles Dickson. confirmation bias. Hyman.. Ian. 367-382. W. Video.See also Barnum effect. Kelly. 1985. "Acceptance of personality test results. and I. and wishful thi nking. (1991). Last updated 12-Sep-2014 Web Skepdic. B. Thiriart.How to Protect Yourself (Wide-Awake Books 1989). 3rd." Journal of Abnormal Psychology. New York: Prometheus Books. P. selective thinking. "The 'Barnum Effect' in Personality Assessment: A Review of the Literature. "'Cold Reading': How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About T hem. Randi. self-deception. James. ed (2000).Bunco and Bunkum Exposed . Forer. 118-121. cold reading. Robert A. T." The Skeptical Inquirer Spring/Summer 1977." Psychological Reports." Skeptical Inquire r. James. 44. R. The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading. 15. Don't Get Taken! . Carroll cover The Critical Thinker's Dictionary The Skeptic's Dictionary Ordering information Becoming a Critical Thinker OTHER LANGUAGES Dutch Dutch voor kinderen French German Greek Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Indonesian for kids Italian Japanese Korean Portuguese Russian Slovak . 57.1982). D. Google Books by R.

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