A study out in , conducted by former astrologer Dr. Geoffrey Dean and psychologist Dr. Ivan Kelly, tracked the lives of 2, subjects who were all born within minutes of one another over several decades. The theory was that if astrological claims about star position and birthdates were true, then the individuals would have shared similar traits; they did not. But despite a preponderance of scientific evidence to suggest that the stars do not influence our lives — and even personally demonstrable evidence such as that financial windfall your horoscope told you to expect on the eighth of the month failed to materialize — people continue to believe.
Forer gave his students a personality test, followed by a description of their personality that was supposedly based on the results of the test. In reality, there was only ever one description, cobbled together from newspaper horoscopes, and everyone received the same one.
Part of what was happening was that the descriptions were positive enough, without being unbelievably positive:. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
Even horoscope writers admit that some of their success rests in not saying too much. You develop the art of being vague.
French, the Goldsmith psychologist, notes that people who read horoscopes are often invested in making their horoscope right for them. On the one hand, the straightforward answer is that, according to a host of scientific studies, astrology does not work. That observation tallies with what other psychologists say: Margaret Hamilton, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin who found that people are more likely to believe favorable horoscopes , noted that people who are believers in astrology also tend to be more anxious or neurotic.
Newspaper horoscopes, she said, offer a bit of comfort, a sort of seeing through the veil on a casual level. Philosophically, there is something about reading horoscopes that does imply a placing of oneself. We have a very, very strong predisposition to notice regularities in nature and the world, to the extent that we see more than there are.
There are good evolutionary reasons for this, in short a false positive is less risky than failure to observe a truth. Horoscopes walk a fine line, and, for many people, an appealing one.
Astrologers might agree. But really, at the end of the day, are horoscopes doing more harm than good, or more good than harm? It all depends on whom you ask and, of course, on the appropriateness of the advice being given. It is also an insult to the science of psychology and the richness of human personality. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilization.
At their heart, horoscopes are a way to offset the uncertainty of daily life.
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