Do you read horoscopes? If so, you’re not only wasting your time – you’re wasting precious brain cells. Come on, do you really believe that half a billion people in the world are going to have the same day/week/month? (Because your horoscope isn’t exactly personalized – it applies to a twelfth of the world’s population).
Horoscope writers use a lot of tricks to make you believe what they’ve said. Here are some of the top ones – and some reasons why, even if you do trust the writers, you should still ignore your horoscope anyway.
We Believe A Personality Analysis – Even If It Doesn’t Really Apply To Us
A famous experiment was carried out in 1948, by the psychologist Bertram R. Forer. He gave his students a personality test, then gave them all exactly the same “results” (which he’d assembled from horoscopes):
You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.
The students were asked to rate the personality profile’s accuracy from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most accurate rating. Guess what? The average rating was 4.26 — despite the fact that every single student had received exactly the same rating. This has been dubbed the Forer effect, and it’s been borne out by study after study ever since 1948.
So if you have one of those keyrings that tells you your personality based on your star sign or your name – ignore it.
We Give Too Much Importance To Co-incidences
You might be reading this and thinking “but, my horoscope has come true on several occasions!” Well, I’m afraid that’s just an example of subjective validation – which means you pick up on co-incidences and assign them an incorrect meaning. This particularly happens when it’s something that has personal meaning to you: when you want it to be more than a co-incidence.
Think of it this way. Have you ever had that experience when the phone rings, you think “it’ll be John” and it is? Spooky, huh? But what about all the times when you think “it’ll be John” … and it isn’t. You probably forget all about those.
Horoscopes Use Vague Statements and Generalizations
Here are a few statements taken from typical horoscopes (all from the Daily Mail newspaper).
“There will be ups and downs financially with nothing going quite to plan.”
“But if you can give yourself space to ponder you may be able to answer one or two questions which have been bothering you recently. Nothing superficial will really help so you will need to focus and get right down to the nitty gritty.”
“You won’t suffer fools or slow coaches gladly and will express yourself firmly but forcefully at times. Just don’t go a step too far since you may want support when you get into a muddle towards mid month.”
Notice anything in common? These statements could apply to anyone:
- Aren’t everyone’s finances up and down (especially during current times)?
- DLM readers probably know that getting to the heart of tricky questions in life involves focusing and pondering, not just looking for a quick fix. This is good advice – but why on earth would it only apply to one particular star sign?
- Do any of us suffer fools and slow coaches gladly? And don’t we all get into a muddle on a regular basis? “Towards mid month” is vague enough to cover at least a ten or twelve day period, too.
The Big Reason You Shouldn’t Place Your Trust In Horoscopes
Even if you’re a horo-sceptic like me, imagine for a moment that you do believe every word of a horoscope or personality profile. You could end up hugely limiting yourself because of it. For example, if your horoscope warns of money problems ahead, you might get anxious, or even use it as an excuse to spend unnecessarily, thinking that hard times are inevitable.
One of the horoscopes I looked at included the line: “You’ll occupy yourself happily spending money on all manner of frivolities since you reckon you need pampering.” Now, how many of us have the self-discipline not to use this as an excuse to think “yes, my horoscope is right, I should buy that new CD/shirt/game … even though I want to pay off my loans”.
You could be subconsciously sabotaging yourself because you believe in a nonsense personality profile. Perhaps you think you’re an impetuous and sometimes angry person, because of your star sign – and this is preventing you from dealing with your hot-headed nature (which might be half-imagined anyway). Or maybe you think that you’re shy, because your star sign’s always told you so – and you’ve never made an effort to overcome this.
None of us are “stuck” with our foibles: we can all improve ourselves, break bad habits and establish good ones. Instead of reading horoscopes, find some truly worthwhile reading (Dumb Little Man is a great place to start – and the blogs linked to in the Blender) that can actually help you improve your life.
What do you think about horoscopes? Whether you agree with me completely or think I’m an idiot, let me know your views in the comments!
|Written on 3/12/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university.||Photo Credit: Yellow Mellow|