Why do we believe in horoscopes?

January 23, 2023
Posted by
Leroy Soeterboek

I recently downloaded an astrology app called Co-Star on my phone under the guise of satire, however, as I dipped my toe in the horoscopic pond I found myself slowly being won over by the strikingly accurate descriptions of myself. It really felt like my birth chart was written just for me and all my idiosyncratic traits and qualities. Perhaps it found me at a particularly vulnerable time, or maybe it was the right time.

Whatever the case, it made me wonder: how does it know so much about me?

Deep down, the sceptic in me could not accept the idea that my personality, with all its features and flaws, could be captured and regurgitated back to me by an algorithm calculated simply by the day I was born.

I believe we are all unique human beans with different experiences, but somewhat similar wants, needs and cravings. Maybe we all just want to be understood and feel a little less alone in the world? Well, theology is great for that.

But is a purposely vague description of my personality the answer I am looking for?


The tendency for people to believe in these types of descriptions, even if they know it's not true, is called the Barnum Effect.

In 1948, a psychologist named Bertram Forer conducted an experiment. He handed out a specially designed questionnaire to his students and asked them to complete it honestly. The results would be used to craft a personalised description or sketch of their personality. One week later, Forer returned the personalised descriptions to each of his students and asked them how accurate they thought it was with a rating out of 5.

The average rating was 4.3 - an impressive number considering each student received the exact same description. Forer had it pieced together the night before using an astrology book he bought from a convenience store.

From an advertising and marketing perspective, the authors of horoscopes are incredibly talented copywriters. They are deliberately vague but are always sure to structure their predictions with a host of positive statements, a strategy that allows the reader to insert their own meaning and make them strikingly personal. Whether it is reassessing a close personal relationship, prosperity in your professional life or a large decision you should trust your gut on - we are the ones who create the meaning we want to see.

Very often this meaning will be selective, as our brains soak up the best bits and throw out the bad bits. People will often take the positive statements sprinkled throughout a horoscope and ignore the critical or negative ones. This absolutely human behaviour is explained by another psychological principle called the Pollyanna Principle, which supports the way the Barnum Effect works. The Pollyanna Principle, also known as positivity bias, explains how we as humans prefer to remember positive memories over negative ones - and why wouldn’t you? If you’ve spoken to a gambler, you’d think they won all the time and that’s because happy memories win every time.

The real question is, can you apply these principles to your business? Smart operators will have a few ideas of what they can do with this information and how they can use it to bring great prosperity. You’re now faced with a big decision that could change your life forever. Trust your instincts and move ahead with caution.

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