October 26, 2019 0

The Barnum Effect – Why Do People Believe In Horoscopes?


Astrology is one of the world’s oldest natural sciences. From the dawn of time, humans have looked
up at the stars and wondered about the future. Cities have been built and wars fought from
starry information handed out by cryptic astrologers. But are we naïve to believe in the alignment
of the stars to predict our future? Is this really a science? Perhaps we should take more responsibility
for our actions rather than believing it was all in the stars. Are we simply too afraid of the future to
put behind these ancient practices? Are astrology, crystal-balls, and tarot cards
simply explanations for what appears random and scary? Let’s find out, in this episode of the Infographics
show – The Barnum Effect – Why do people believe in horoscopes? The Barnum Effect, coined in 1956 by psychologist
Paul Meehl, is an everyday psychological phenomenon whereby people believe that advice based on
supernatural or quasi-scientific knowledge is specific to them, when in actual fact,
it is generic information that could apply to anyone. We, as humble human beings, are generally
predisposed to believe vague yet positive descriptions of our personality, especially
if the descriptions foreshadow desirable future events. The Barnum Effect explains why millions of
people subscribe to astrology, fortune telling, tarot cards, and online personality tests
each and every day. The term Barnum Effect comes from the “a
sucker is born every minute” phrase widely attributed to the American showman PT Barnum. Barnum, born on July 5th, 1891, is fondly
remembered for promoting outlandish hoaxes and for founding the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He travelled the world collecting human oddities,
or freaks, to be exhibited for a fee. He introduced the world to General Tom Thumb,
The Four-Legged Girl, Pinhead, The Siamese Twins, The Living Torso, and, let’s not
forget The Wild Men of Borneo. Barnum, who was also an author, publisher
and philanthropist, may not have been responsible for the “sucker born every minute” phrase
at all. In fact, it is unlikely that a businessman
as successful as Barnum would actually mutter such words. Why would he publically insult his client
base? It is more plausible that the actual “sucker”
quote came from rival businessman, David Hannum, who had been one-upped by Barnum in exhibiting
a fake giant in New York. Hannum was in possession of a model of a fake
giant that Barnum wanted to buy from him to exhibit. Hannum wouldn’t sell the fake giant, and
Barnum went on to build his own fake that he exhibited with great success. Hannum was probably referring to Barnum’s
business model of aggressively promoting and displaying hoaxes, including the fake giant
scam, when he uttered the sentence “a sucker is born every minute.” Since living in caves, humans have come to
believe in astrology. We all seek some kind of order or sense for
the random events that happen in our lives. Since the beginning of time, we have been
scared of the future and have felt vulnerable to the chaotic disorder of everyday life. We need to travel back 4,000 years to look
at the first organized system of astrology that arose during the Babylonian age during
the 2nd millennium. The Babylonians were the first to describe
the 12 zodiac signs. The Egyptians refined this system, before
the Greeks took ahold of it and shaped it into its modern form. During Alexander the Great’s conquest of
Asia, the Greeks were introduced to the cryptic cosmological systems of Syria, Babylon, and
Persia, and made them their own. In the modern world, astrology is just as
popular with almost all magazines and newspapers having astrological sections. Thousands of websites are devoted to telling
our fortunes, and according to a study, 58 percent of Americans between the ages of 18
and 24 believe astrology is scientific. In fact, the same study suggested that skepticism
of astrology is on the decrease. Why is this? Well, astrology may excuse us for our less
positive traits or actions. We can blame being late for a meeting on the
Full Moon in Aquarius, or justify splitting with an unsuitable romantic partner because
our star signs unfortunately clashed. Horoscopes are convenient everyday distractions
that make us feel good about the world around us. Let’s take a look at personality descriptions
of one of the star signs at random, say, Capricorn. “Capricorn women have a cool, standoffish
charm. Elegant and glacial, they may seem unapproachable. Actually, this is a mask to hide their vulnerability.” Here the first group of adjectives, “standoffish”,
“elegant”, “unapproachable”, and “glacial,” are the types of words one might use to describe
a movie-star or model – and who doesn’t want to be described as a movie star? The description goes on to explain, “Actually,
this is a mask to hide their vulnerability.” So what is happening here? The description does a complete 180, and discredits
what it has already told us, leaving us confused in the mix and in a position to cherry-pick
those attributes we would rather have. The description moves on to “Capricorns
are afraid of losing face.” Well who really isn’t afraid of losing face? They “fear criticism.” Again who out there actually enjoys being
criticized? And concludes with the totally generic – “she
expects the best from her children.” Moms of the world, please raise your hands,
those of you who expect the worst from your children. No hands raised? Right. While most of us realize that reading and
believing your horoscope is a little, let’s say, naïve, can astrology and astronomy actually
be dangerous? Well if you happened to have been a child
born in pre-Columbian Maya culture right up to the Spanish conquest in the 17th century,
your fate could well have been determined by the stars. The Mayan religion blended several aspects
of nature, astronomy, and rituals. They developed calendars around the stars
and the planets, and built astronomical buildings where they practiced human sacrifice rituals. They used a number of methods including heart
extraction, shooting with arrows, and the placing of the sacrificial live body into
a ball for a ritual reenactment of the Mesoamerican ballgame, followed swiftly by mandatory disembowelment. Nope. You won’t see that in your Marie Claire
horoscope. Statistics show that over 90% of Americans
know their star sign and as many as 50% read their horoscopes, but it is not really clear
how many actually believe what they read. Perhaps horoscopes are consumed more as entertainment
nowadays, with a group of hard-core fixed believers in the minority. So, what do you think? Do you believe in your horoscope? Can we really tell our future from the stars? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
called What if The Whole World Suddenly Went Blind? Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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