Barnum effect

“Forer” redirects here. For people with the surname, see Forer (surname).

The Barnum effect, also called the Forer effect, or less commonly, the Barnum-Forer effect, is a common psychological phenomenon whereby individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, that are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.[1] This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some paranormal beliefs and practices, such as astrologyfortune tellingaura reading, and some types of personality tests.[1][2]

These characterizations are often used by practitioners as a con-technique to convince victims that they are endowed with a paranormal gift. Because the assessment statements are so vague, people interpret their own meaning, thus the statement becomes “personal” to them. Also, individuals are more likely to accept negative assessments of themselves if they perceive the person presenting the assessment as a high-status professional. The term “Barnum effect” was coined in 1956 by psychologist Paul Meehl in his essay Wanted – A Good Cookbook, because he relates the vague personality descriptions used in certain “pseudo-successful” psychological tests to those given by showman P. T. Barnum

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