You are on page 1of 15

The Journal of General Psychology, 2008, 135(3), 287300

Copyright 2008 Heldref Publications

Science Versus the Stars: A Double-Blind


Test of the Validity of the NEO Five-Factor
Inventory and Computer-Generated
Astrological Natal Charts
ALYSSA JAYNE WYMAN
STUART VYSE
Connecticut College

ABSTRACT. The authors asked 52 college students (38 women, 14 men, M age = 19.3
years, SD = 1.3 years) to identify their personality summaries by using a computer-generated
astrological natal chart when presented with 1 true summary and 1 bogus one. Similarly,
the authors asked participants to identify their true personality profile from real and bogus
summaries that the authors derived from the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; P. T.
Costa Jr. & R. R. McCrae, 1985). Participants identified their real NEO-FFI profiles at a
greater-than-chance level but were unable to identify their real astrological summaries. The
authors observed a P. T. Barnum effect in the accuracy ratings of both psychological and
astrological measures but did not find differences between the odd-numbered (i.e., favorable)
signs and the even-numbered (i.e., unfavorable) signs.
Keywords: astrology, double-blind test, five-factor model, NEO-FFI, personal validation,
personality

ASTROLOGERS NATAL CHARTS and psychologists personality profiles


share a common purposeto provide a description of the respondents personalityand they are based on at least two common assumptions. First, astrologers
and personality psychologists assume that people possess stable characteristics
that, to varying degrees, determine their behavior. This assumption gives personality assessment its value. Second, both astrologers and psychologists assume that
the instruments they have developed for this purpose can measure these traits.
Despite these similarities, astrology and trait psychology represent very different theories about the causes of personality. Astrologers believe an individuals
character is determined by the arrangement of the planets and stars in relation
Address correspondence to Stuart Vyse, Department of Psychology, Box 5621, Connecticut
College, New London, CT 06320, USA; savys@conncoll.edu (e-mail).
287

288

The Journal of General Psychology

to the moment of that persons birth. As a result, the natal charts that astrologers construct are designed to identify the relative locations of various celestial
objects at the precise time and place of birth. In contrast, many contemporary
personality psychologists place the source of personality 9 months earlierat
conceptionwhen the individuals genetic profile is determined (Brody, 1994).
The personality inventories that psychologists use are designed to measure these
traits by asking participants to report on their own cognitions and behavior.
Groups of specific cognitions and behaviors are thought to be indicative of more
general underlying traits.
The similarities between these psychological and astrological personality
assessments have led to comparisons of their relative validity. Carlson (1985)
tested participants ability to recognize their astrological charts and their California Personality Inventory (CPI) profiles. Presented with personality descriptions
based on their own astrological charts and two other personality descriptions
randomly selected from those of others, Carlsons participants were unable to
identify their astrological profiles at greater-than-chance levels. Moreover, using
the same procedure, he found that participants were no more skilled at identifying their CPI profiles.
A number of factors have been implicated in peoples acceptance of personality feedback, regardless of whether it is psychological or astrological. Taylor and
Brown (1988) suggested that many people hold an unrealistically enhanced view
of themselves, a characteristic that may make it difficult for them to accurately
identify their own personality profiles. If, as Taylor and Brown suggested, this
self-enhancing phenomenon were widespread, it would throw into question the
usefulness of the personal validation method of Carlsons (1985) test. Doubts
about the accuracy of self-knowledge are further supported by Sundbergs (1955)
study showing that participants were unable to discriminate between their own
profiles and bogus profiles derived from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory. However, other tests with the CPI have shown that participants can
identify their own personality profiles at greater-than-chance levels (Greene,
Harris, & Macon, 1979; Word, 1996). Therefore, although personal validation
has not yet been successfully demonstrated for astrological charts, a limited
number of studies have shown that participants have sufficient self-understanding
to discriminate true CPI from bogus CPI (e.g., Word) and 16 Personality Factors
(16PF; Hampson, Gilmour, & Harris, 1978) reports.
Several studies have shown that the P. T. Barnum effect (Meehl, 1956), a
general tendency for individuals to accept vague and ambiguous descriptions as
typical of themselves, influences the acceptance of both astrological (Glick, Gottesman, & Jolton, 1989) and psychological (Dickson & Kelly, 1985; Forer, 1949;
Guastello & Rieke, 1990; ODell, 1972; Sundberg, 1955; Word, 1996) personality feedback. Furthermore, there is evidence that, for both kinds of assessment,
positive feedback is more readily accepted. For example, in the study by Greene
et al. (1979), participants who misidentified their CPI profiles were most likely

Wyman & Vyse

289

to pick the more positive of the two profiles presented. Other researchers have
found similar results (e.g., Collins, Dmitruk, & Ranney, 1977; Glick et al., 1989;
Hamilton, 1995). In the case of astrology, the odd-numbered sun signs (i.e., Aries,
Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius) are thought to be more favorable in
content than the even-numbered ones (i.e., Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, Aquarius), and some researchers have found a difference in the degree of
acceptance of charts for odd sun signs versus even sun signs (Glick et al., 1989;
Hamilton, 2001). However, a more recent large-scale study did not replicate this
effect (Wunder, 2003). Last, researchers have shown that prior knowledge of an
individuals astrological sun sign is associated with a bias toward acceptance of
astrological readings (Hamilton, 1995; Van Rooij, 1994).
We designed the present study as a replication of Carlsons (1985) study with
several substantive modifications. First, in the intervening years, both astrology
and personality psychologies have changed. For astrology, recent decades have
seen the development of sophisticated computer programs capable of converting
birth data into detailed natal charts that include lengthy personality descriptions.
In the field of personality, the years since Carlsons study have included the emergence of the Five-Factor Model (FFM), or Big Five, as the dominant trait theory
of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1992b; Goldberg, 1993). One of our goals in the
present study was to update Carlsons work by using computer-generated natal
charts and the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; Costa & McCrae, 1985).
Carlsons (1985) participants were not able to identify either their astrological personality descriptions or their CPI profiles given a three-choice task. In
other tests with the CPI, participants have successfully identified their own profiles in two- (Greene et al., 1979) and three-choice (Word, 1996) tasks; however,
no studies have reported successful identification of astrological profiles. To
maximize the likelihood of correct identification, we used a simple two-choice
task. We presented each participant with one real astrological personality description and one bogus astrological personality description. Similarly, identifications
of the NEO-FFI involved one real profile and one bogus profile. In addition, both
to provide more detailed information about participants accuracy judgments and
to assess the P. T. Barnum effect, sun-sign bias, and odd-even sun-sign effect, we
asked participants in the present study to make detailed accuracy ratings of both
the astrological charts and the personality test results.
On the basis of previous research indicating that, at least in some instances,
participants were able to correctly identify their CPI profiles (Greene et al., 1979;
Word, 1996) and the presumed influence of the simpler two-choice arrangement
of the present study, we hypothesized that participants would be able to correctly
identify their real NEO-FFI profiles. But because no previous study had used a
two-choice test with astrological profiles, we were unable to make a hypothesis
in this case. We also asked participants to rate the accuracy of all four personality
reports (bogus and real astrological charts and NEO-FFI profiles) on a 9-point
Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (This is a completely inaccurate description of me)

290

The Journal of General Psychology

to 9 (This is a completely accurate description of me), and on the basis of previous


research we hypothesized that participants would give the real NEO-FFI profile
significantly higher accuracy ratings than they would the bogus NEO-FFI profile.
We did not make a hypothesis regarding the accuracy ratings of the astrological summaries. In addition, we hypothesized that participants ratings of all the
profiles, astrological and psychological as well as bogus and real, would be rated
somewhat favorably, consistent with the P. T. Barnum effect, and that participants
who knew their sun signs would judge their real astrological readings to be more
accurate, consistent with the sun-sign bias. Last, due to the conflicting results of
prior studies, we made no hypothesis about differences in the accuracy ratings of
odd and even signs because of the positive and negative personality descriptions
associated with them.
Method
Participants
Participants were 52 Connecticut College students (38 women, 14 men). The
ages of the students were between 18 and 22 years (M age = 19.3 years, SD = 1.3
years). We recruited participants from an introductory psychology class and through
fliers posted around campus inviting any student to participate in a study of astrology
and psychological assessment. There were 14 psychology majors, 28 nonpsychology
majors, and 10 participants who were undecided about their major. Students from the
introductory psychology class received course credit, and all volunteers received their
personalized astrological natal charts as a reward for participation.
Measures
NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). The NEO-FFI is a 60-item scale derived
from the revised NEO Personality Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1985; 1992a) that
measures five facets of personality: Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness to experience (O), Agreeableness (A), and Conscientiousness (C). Example
items include, I try to be courteous to everyone I meet (A) and I like to be
where the action is (E), and all items are rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The NEO-FFI has shown stable
Cronbachs alphas ranging from .68 to .83 for domains of N, E, and O and alphas
from .63 to .79 for A and C domains.
Knowledge and beliefs questionnaire. The only other measure was a brief questionnaire that asked for demographic information and assessed knowledge of astrology
and belief in the validity of both astrology and psychological personality tests. Two
questions asked participants to rate the accuracy of personality descriptions derived
from astrological charts and psychological tests on a Likert-type scale ranging

Wyman & Vyse

291

from 1 (very accurate) to 7 (very inaccurate). Five questions assessed astrological


knowledge. The first three asked if the participant knew his or her sun sign and, if
so, to name it and list three adjectives associated with people who have the sign.
The last two asked participants whether they knew and, if so, to name their rising or ascendant sign and their moon sign. This questionnaire also asked for the
participants date, location, and time of birth; gender; and major.
Materials
Participants made their assessments on NEO-FFI summary feedback sheets
and astrological charts that were modified to allow for accuracy ratings. The
NEO-FFI summaries use one of three statements to indicate whether the respondent is high, moderate, or low on each of the five traits. For example, the high-N
statement is, sensitive, emotional, and prone to experience feelings that are
upsetting and the low-O statement is, down to earth, practical, traditional, and
pretty much set in your ways. We modified the feedback sheets to allow participant ratings of the accuracy of each of the five traits, as well as a single global
rating of the report as a whole. These ratings were made on a 9-point Likert scale
ranging from 1 (This is a completely inaccurate description of me) to 9 (This is
a completely accurate description of me).
We generated astrological personality profiles by using Estoric Technologies Solar Fire Five v5.0.19 (Dawson & Johnson, 2000) program. Although
no conventional reliability or validity data are available for this program, the
National Council for Geocosmic Research recommended it for research (National
Center for Geocosmic Research, 2004), and it was endorsed by Burk (2001),
who said, Solar Fire continues to be the cutting-edge astrology program available (p. 342). We edited the natal chart output so that all references to the signs,
planets, or houses were gone, to avoid bias due to astrological knowledge. We
also removed personality descriptions derived from planetary aspects because
astrological charts contain different numbers of aspects and including them would
have resulted in real and bogus charts of different lengths. The resulting charts
included 29 one- to four-sentence personality descriptions (e.g., You take pride
in your home and family. You like being the center of attention in your home environment; You love spontaneity and new games. You also love new and creative
projects, often initiating them yourself).1 Each of the astrological personality
reports included the same 9-point accuracy rating scale used for the NEO-FFI
summaries. Using this scale, the participants rated the accuracy of each of the 29
descriptions and, in a separate item, the accuracy of the chart as a whole.
Procedure
Testing occurred in two sessions that were 3 weeks apart. When participants
volunteered for this study, we asked them to bring the verified date, time, and

292

The Journal of General Psychology

location of their birth to the first session and encouraged them to contact their
parents to obtain accurate birth information. In the first session, we gave participants a packet containing the consent form, NEO-FFI questionnaire, and knowledge and beliefs questionnaire, respectively. We instructed participants to fill
out the three forms in the order that they were presented. We verbally reminded
participants to provide the date, location, and time of their birth and that providing inaccurate information would be a violation of the honor code of the college.
After they had completed all forms and returned the packet, we told participants
that they would be contacted in approximately two weeks concerning the date
of the next session.
During the second session, an experimenter who was blind to the hypothesis
and had no knowledge of the real and bogus summaries presented each participant
with his or her specific packet containing an instruction sheet and four personality summaries, a real natal chart, a bogus natal chart, a real NEO-FFI summary,
and a bogus NEO-FFI summary. We randomly selected the bogus astrological
and NEO-FFI summaries from other participants in the study. We randomized
the order of the summaries so that each participant had an equal chance of being
presented with each summary in each ordinal position. We presented half of the
participants with the astrological summaries first and the other half with the NEOFFI summaries first. Each report was labeled as either Psychological Report or
Astrological Report.
Participants were asked to attend to everything in the packet in the specific
order that it was presented, first reading the directions and then rating each statement of all four personality summaries on the 9-point scale. In addition, participants provided a single overall accuracy rating for each summary, and we asked
them to identify which of the two NEO-FFI reports they believed was their own
and which of the two astrological summaries was their own. Last, participants
considered all four of the personality reports and identified the one that they
thought was the most accurate description of their personality. On completion
of all items, participants returned the packet to the experimenter. In return, the
experimenter handed each participant a debriefing form and the participants
real astrological natal chart, which was labeled with the participants name on its
cover sheet and kept in a separate box from the other experimental materials.
Results
Personal Validation of Personality Descriptions
As we hypothesized, participants were able to correctly identify their NEOFFI profiles at greater-than-chance levels, 2(1, N = 52) = 17.31, p < .001 (78.8%
correct identifications). In contrast, only 46.2% of participants were able to identify their real astrological summaries, which was not significantly better than the
percentage of chance, 2(1, N = 52) = 0.31, p > .05.

Wyman & Vyse

293

Accuracy of Personality Reports


Participants rated the accuracy of psychological and astrological personality
descriptions in two ways. For each of the five dimensions of the NEO-FFI and
each of the 29 personality descriptions of the astrological reports, participants
made individual ratings on a 9-point scale. In addition, they assessed the accuracy
of each of the four reports in a single overall rating on the same 9-point scale.
For the purposes of this analysis, we summed the individual ratings of items on
the reports and divided each sum by 5 for the NEO-FFI reports and by 29 for the
astrological reports, resulting in mean ratings for each type of report.
To assess the relative accuracy ratings of the four personality reports, we
conducted a 2 (gender) 4 (personality report) mixed-design multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) with repeated measures across the four personality descriptions and dependent variables being the overall ratings of accuracy
and the mean accuracy ratings of the individual personality descriptions. We
included gender as an independent variable because previous researchers have
shown that women have significantly higher levels of belief in astrology (e.g.,
Wunder, 2003). In this case, neither the main effect of gender nor the interaction
of personality report and gender was significant, but the main effect of personality report was significant, Wilkss = .489, F(6, 43) = 7.57, p < .001, 2 = .51.
Follow-up univariate analyses of variance revealed that there were significant
effects of personality report on both overall ratings, F(3, 144) = 7.23, p < .001,
2 = .13, and mean individual item ratings, F(3, 144) = 15.01, p < .001, 2 = .24.
The means and standard deviations for the mean-item and overall ratings for each
of the four personality summaries are shown in Table 1. Tukey HSD tests revealed
TABLE 1. Means and Standard Deviations of Accuracy Ratings of Real
and Bogus NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; P. T. Costa, Jr., & R. R.
McCrea, 1992a) Summaries and Real and Bogus Astrological Charts (N = 50)
Measure
Real NEO-FFI
M
SD
Bogus NEO-FFI
M
SD
Real astrological
M
SD
Bogus astrological
M
SD

Mean-item ratings

Overall ratings

7.19
1.14

7.23
1.27

6.21
1.19

6.09
1.53

6.18
0.91

6.17
1.17

6.05
1.16

6.48
1.39

294

The Journal of General Psychology

that, for both dependent variables, the real NEO-FFI was rated as significantly
more accurate than the other personality reports (p < .05) and that there were no
significant differences in accuracy ratings among the other three reports.
Last, when asked to choose which of the four personality reports provided
the most accurate description of themselves, 54.9% of participants chose the
real NEO-FFI, 19.6% chose the real astrological report, 15.7% chose the bogus
astrological report, and only 9.8% chose the bogus NEO-FFI as the most accurate personality summary. Participants selected real NEO-FFI significantly more
often than they did other summaries, 2(3, N = 51) = 25.31, p < .001.
P. T. Barnum Effect
The hypothesis that both psychological and astrological assessments would
show the P. T. Barnum effect was supported. Each of the four personality reports
was submitted to a one-sample t test for which the null hypothesis was that
accuracy ratings in Table 1 were not significantly different from 5 (This is right
as much as it is wrong). Both for overall ratings and for mean individual item
ratings, the t tests revealed that all four personality reports were significantly different from this neutral rating. Thus, both bogus NEO-FFI and bogus astrological
reports showed evidence of the P. T. Barnum effect.
Sun-Sign Bias and Odd-Numbered Sign Bias
The hypothesis that participants prior knowledge of their sun sign would
bias them in favor of accepting the astrological descriptions was partially supported. To test this hypothesis, we divided participants into two groupsthose
who correctly reported their sun sign and those who did not. Then we divided the
statements of the real astrological summaries into statements related to the participants sun sign and statements unrelated to the participants sun sign. Analysis of
these items showed evidence of sun-sign bias. Participants who knew their sun
sign gave significantly higher accuracy ratings to the sun-sign-related statements
than to the non-sun-sign statements, t(34) = 2.36, p < .05, whereas participants
who did not know their sun sign did not, t(15) = 0.12, p > .05. Last, to determine
whether the sun-sign bias affected accuracy ratings of the real astrological charts,
we conducted a one-way MANOVA across these two groups on the mean-item
and overall ratings of the participants real astrological charts. There were no
significant differences in the accuracy ratings of these two groups, Wilkss =
.996, F(2, 49) = 0.09, p > .05.
To analyze whether there was a bias in favor of the odd-numbered signs
(Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius), which are often considered
more favorable than the even-numbered ones (Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio,
Capricorn, Aquarius), we grouped participants by odd and even signs and conducted a one-way MANOVA across these groups with the overall and mean-item

Wyman & Vyse

295

accuracy ratings of both the real and bogus astrological charts as the dependent
variables. The analysis was not significant, indicating that there was no bias produced by the favorableness of the participants sun sign, Wilkss = .991, F(4,
47) = 0.48, p > .05.
Supplemental Exploratory Analyses
To further examine the results, we performed a number of additional analyses. We constructed a correlation matrix to examine the interrelationships of
knowledge and belief in astrology, belief in psychological measures, and accuracy ratings of the various personality measures (see Table 2). Belief in astrology
was not correlated with accuracy ratings for either the real or bogus astrological
summaries, but participants with greater knowledge of astrology gave the bogus
chart a significantly lower total accuracy score. There was no correlation of
knowledge or belief with overall ratings of the astrological summaries.
Despite the negative relation between astrological knowledge and accuracy
ratings of the bogus astrological profile, a MANOVA revealed that participants
who correctly identified their real astrological chart did not differ from those who
did not do so in their knowledge of or belief in astrology, Wilkss = .972, F(2,
49) = 0.71, p > .05. Last, participants who knew their sun signs were less likely
to correctly identify their real astrological profiles than those who did not know
their sun signs (42% vs. 56%), although a chi-square test showed that this difference was not statistically significant, 2(1, N = 52) = 0.95, p < .05.
In the case of psychological measures, participants who had greater belief
in psychologically based measures gave the bogus NEO-FFI a higher overall
rating; however, we did not see this pattern in either the total rating of the bogus
NEO-FFI or the mean-item ratings of the real NEO-FFI. Similar to the results
with the astrological profile, those who correctly identified their real NEO-FFI
results did not differ significantly from those who did not in their degree of belief
in psychological measures of personality, t(50) = 0.89, p > .05.
There were a number of positive correlations among the ratings of the real
and bogus astrological summaries and the real and bogus NEO-FFI summaries,
suggesting that some participants gave consistently higher ratings to all of the
reports than others. These correlations were more often seen in the total ratings of
the astrological and psychological summaries than in the overall ratings, perhaps
because of the presumably greater reliability of the total ratings in comparison
with the single item of the overall ratings.
Discussion
Consistent with previous research, we found that participants were unable
to identify their own astrological charts at a greater-than-chance level, a result
that extended the string of failure using the personal validation technique. Unlike

Astrological belief

Astrological knowledge
Belief in psychological measures
Overall rating of real astrological
summary
Mean-item rating of real astrological
summary
Overall rating of bogus astrological
summary
Mean-item rating of bogus
astrological summary
Overall rating of real NEO-FFI
summary
Mean-item rating or real NEO-FFI
summary
Overall rating of bogus NEO-FFI
summary
Mean-item rating of bogus NEO-FFI
summary

p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

11.

10.

9.

8.

7.

6.

5.

1.
2.
3.
4.

Variable
.25

2
.05
.06

.29*
.81***

.06
.00

.86***

.16

.35*
.22

.33*

.36*

.34**

.12

.27
.07
.26

11

.22

.13

.02

.24
.10
.28*

10

.23

.20

.46**

.43**

.22

.19
.10
.01

.28*

.33*

.38**

.13

.03
.14
.05

.19

.05

.77***

.18
.27*
.03

.22

.27
.03
.04

.24
.01
.07

.05
.10
.01

TABLE 2. Intercorrelations Among Astrological Belief and Knowledge, Belief in the Accuracy of Psychological Personality
Measures, and Accuracy Ratings of Real and Bogus Astrological and NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; P. T. Costa, Jr.,
& R. R. McCrea, 1992a) Summaries

296
The Journal of General Psychology

Wyman & Vyse

297

Carlsons (1985) study but consistent with several others (Greene et al., 1979;
Hampson et al., 1978; Word, 1996), participants were able to identify their real
personality profiles at greater-than-chance levels when these profiles were based
on a standardized personality inventoryin this case, the NEO-FFI. Thus, if the
unrealistic self-image identified by Taylor and Brown (1988) affected our participants ability to identify their astrological profiles, no similar problem affected
their identification of the NEO-FFI profiles.
Although Carlsons (1985) participants were unable to identify their CPI
profiles, it is not surprising that in the present study a significant percentage of
participants were able to identify their NEO-FFI summaries. First, Carlson used
a three-choice test with two bogus CPI reports and one real CPI report, whereas
in the present study we used a simple two-choice test involving one real test
summary and one bogus test summary. Second, the NEO-FFI contains only five
dimensions, all of which are easily understood and well imbedded in the vernacular language of personality description, whereas the CPI contains 18 dimensions,
a number of which may be difficult for many people to evaluate.
What is more notable is the inability of participants to identify their real astrological profiles at above-chance levels. The use of a two-choice test in the present
study was an attempt to maximize the chances of successful identification of both
types of personality measures. Although 79% of participants correctly identified
their real NEO-FFI report, the present results represent less of an endorsement of
psychological measures than a further indictment of astrology. Even in a simple
two-choice test, participants failed to identify their own astrological charts at
greater-than-chance levels. Like the CPI, the computer-generated astrological
reports in the present study contained many more personality descriptors29
separate personality statementsthat may have made the task more difficult than
the task with the NEO-FFI.
Still, we tried to use both the psychological and astrological reports in a manner
that approximated how they might typically be used. Under these circumstances,
participants could not identify their real astrological charts. In addition, the accuracy ratings of the psychological profiles and astrological reports paralleled the
identification results: Participants gave the real NEO-FFI significantly higher
ratings than the other profiles. Last, when asked to choose the best description of
their personality among all four measures presented, participants chose their real
NEO-FFI profile significantly more often than they did the other three.
In the present study, we found evidence of the P. T. Barnum effect in participants evaluations of both the astrological reports and the NEO-FFI profiles.
These results are consistent with a number of previous studies (Dickson & Kelly,
1985; Forer, 1949; Glick et al., 1989; Guastello & Rieke, 1990; ODell, 1972;
Sundberg, 1955; Word, 1996), but the significant result found for the bogus NEOFFI is noteworthy, because most participants were able to correctly identify their
real NEO-FFI profiles. Despite much greater certainty about which NEO-FFI was
theirs, participants gave some credence to the bogus profile.

298

The Journal of General Psychology

In the present study, we did find some evidence of sun-sign bias. Participants
who knew their sun signs gave more positive ratings to the sun-sign items in their
astrological summaries than those who did not. But with all items included (i.e.,
sun-sign and non-sun-sign items), participants who knew their sun signs did not
differ from those who did not in the mean-item accuracy ratings of the real astrological chart or in the single global accuracy rating. Thus, the present results are
consistent with previous studies finding a sun-sign effect only for those who are
knowledgeable about astrology (Hamilton, 1995; Van Rooij, 1994). However, in
this case, the bias was restricted to sun-sign-related items and did not extend to
the entire astrological profile.
The results of the analysis of the even-numbered positive signs did not reveal
a significant difference in participants accuracy ratings. Thus, the present results
are (a) consistent with the study by Wunder (2003) that failed to find an odd-even
sign difference and (b) discrepant with the positive results of Glick et al. (1989)
and Hamilton (2001). However, neither the present study nor Wunders result
contradicts the basic premise that the favorableness of a personality description
affects its acceptability because neither study directly measured favorability or
unfavorability of the profiles.
Knowledge of astrology was negatively correlated with overall ratings of the
bogus astrological chart, presumably because participants who were familiar with
the characteristics associated with their sun sign were able to detect them in the
real chart and not the bogus one. Surprisingly, this effect of astrological knowledge
did not translate into better identification of the real astrological report. Similarly,
there was no significant difference in astrological knowledge between those who
correctly identified their real astrological profile and those who did not, and those
who correctly identified their astrological profile did not differ in their degree of
belief in astrology. In the case of the NEO-FFI, belief in the validity of psychological measures was positively correlated with accuracy rating of the bogus NEO-FFI
but not with ratings of the real NEO-FFI. Last, several of the accuracy ratings of
both real and bogus NEO-FFI profiles were positively correlated with accuracy ratings of the real and bogus astrological profiles, suggesting that participants varied
in their overall acceptance of both types of personality information.
The results of the present study reaffirm that, even in a simple two-choice
test using computer-generated astrological profiles, participants are unable to distinguish their own astrologically derived personality summaries from those taken
at random from other participants. Although there were positive trends, such as
the higher ratings of sun-sign descriptions for participants who knew their sun
signs and the modest negative correlation between astrological knowledge and
the accuracy rating of the bogus astrological profile, participants who had greater
belief in or knowledge of astrology were no more likely to correctly identify
their astrological profile than those who had greater belief in or knowledge of
astrology. In contrast, participants correctly identified their psychologically based
NEO-FFI profiles at greater-than-chance levels.

Wyman & Vyse

299

We note that there was evidence of a P. T. Barnum effect in the accuracy


ratings of both the astrological and psychological measures and that belief in
psychological measures was positively correlated with the accuracy rating of
the bogus NEO-FFI. Thus, although the present results provide some support
for the validity of the NEO-FFI and provide no support for the validity of astrologically derived personality summaries, it appears that both types of measures
enjoy somewhat inflated accuracy ratings stemming from participants general
tendency to see themselves in whatever personality description they are given.
Last, we acknowledge that the personal validation method in this and similar
studies provides a rather limited form of validation. Individuals may argue that
psychologists or others who know the individual would be better suited to judge
whether an astrological profile is an accurate description of the participant. Still,
a measure of the profiles ability to predict future behavior would be more convincing. However, because astrological charts are typically shared directly with
the person for whom they are constructed, it does not seem unreasonable that the
individual be recognizable in the astrological profile.
Furthermore, in the present study, the majority of participants were able to
recognize their NEO-FFI profiles, so it is clear that participants self-understanding
was accurate enough to provide validation for this measure. Possible explanations
for the poor results obtained for the astrological profiles include the more complex
29-statement format of the astrological report and a lack of specificity in astrological descriptions (Hampson et al., 1978). However, for now, personal validation data
supporting the validity of astrological personality descriptions are still lacking.
NOTE
1. We based the 29 astrological descriptions on the ascendant sign and 12 house descriptions
according to the placement of the ascendant, the sun sign, the house of the sun, the moon sign, the house
of the moon, the Mercury sign, the house of Mercury, the Venus sign, the house of Venus, the Mars sign,
the house of Mars, the Jupiter sign, the house of Jupiter, the Saturn sign, the house of Saturn, and the
houses of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. We removed the signs of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto because
they refer to generational descriptions rather than individual personality characteristics.

AUTHOR NOTES
Alyssa Jayne Wyman is an MSW student at Smith College and a 2003 graduate of Connecticut
College in New London, Connecticut. Stuart Vyse is professor of psychology at Connecticut College.
He specializes in irrational behavior, superstition, and belief in the paranormal.

REFERENCES
Brody, N. (1994). .5 + or .5: Continuity and change in personal dispositions. In T. F.
Heatherton & J. L. Weinberger (Eds.), Can personality change? (pp. 5981). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Burk, K. (2001). Astrology: Understanding the birth chart: A comprehensive guide to
classical interpretation. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide.
Carlson, S. (1985). A double-blind test of astrology. Nature, 318, 419425.

300

The Journal of General Psychology

Collins, R. W., Dmitruk, V. M., & Ranney, J. T. (1977). Personal validation: Some empirical
and ethical considerations. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45, 7077.
Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1985). The NEO Personality Inventory Manual. Odessa,
FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992a). NEO PI-R professional manual. Odessa, FL:
Psychological Assessment Resources.
Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992b). Four ways five factors are basic. Personality
and Individual Differences, 13, 653665.
Dawson, G., & Johnson, S. (2000). Solar Fire Five (Version 5.0.19) [Computer software].
Magill, Australia: Esoteric Technologies.
Dickson, D. H., & Kelly, I. W. (1985). The Barnum effect in personality assessment.
Psychological Reports, 57, 367382.
Forer, B. R. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 44, 118123.
Glick, P., Gottesman, D., & Jolton, J. (1989). The fault is not in the stars: Susceptibility of skeptics and believers in astrology to the Barnum effect. Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin, 15, 572583.
Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48(1), 2634.
Greene, R. L., Harris, M. E., & Macon, R. S. (1979). Another look at personality validation. Journal of Personality Assessment, 43, 419423.
Guastello, S. J., & Rieke, M. L. (1990). The Barnum effect and validity of computer-based
test interpretations: The human resource development report. Psychological Assessment, 2, 186190.
Hamilton, M. (1995). Incorporation of astrology-based personality information into longterm self-concept. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10, 707718.
Hamilton, M. (2001). Who believes in astrology? Effect of favorableness of astrologically
derived personality descriptions on acceptance of astrology. Personality and Individual
Differences, 31, 903914.
Hampson, S. E., Gilmour, R., & Harris, P. L. (1978). Accuracy in self-perception: The fallacy
of personal validation. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 17, 231235.
Meehl, P. E. (1956). WantedA good cookbook. American Psychologist, 11, 262272.
National Center for Geocosmic Research. (2004). Research. Retrieved January 27, 2007,
from http://www.geocosmic.org/research/
ODell, J. W. (1972). P. T. Barnum explores the computer. Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology, 38, 270273.
Sundberg, N. D. (1955). The acceptability of fake versus bona fide personality test
interpretations. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 50, 145147.
Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well being: A social psychological
perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193210.
Van Rooij, J. (1994). Introversion-extraversion: Astrology versus psychology. Personality
and Individual Differences, 16, 985988.
Word, S. (1996). Test-taker and close-other selection of personality feedback. Journal of
Personality Assessment, 66, 402413.
Wunder, E. (2003). Self-attribution, sun-sign traits, and the alleged role of favourableness
as a moderator variable: Long-term effect or artefact? Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 17831789.

Manuscript submitted March 4, 2004


Revision accepted for publication February 9, 2006