Barnum Effect

"You need other people to like and admire you, but you still tend to criticize yourself. Although you have some personality weaknesses, you are usually able to compensate for them. You have an important untapped capacity that you are not using to your advantage. You tend to be disciplined and self-controlled on the outside and anxious and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts about whether you are making the right decision or doing the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and are dissatisfied when surrounded by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept the statements of others without satisfactory evidence. However, you do not find it wise to be too forthright when opening yourself up to others. At times you are outgoing, friendly, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, cautious, and reserved. Some of your wishes tend to be quite unrealistic. Security is one of your most important goals in life."

Nov 18, 2023 - 18:04
Dec 12, 2023 - 18:59
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Barnum Effect
Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a phenomenon that refers to the circus owner and showman P.T. Barnum's statement, "The secret of my success is to always have something for everybody." It refers to people's tendency to find general, vague personality descriptions and ambiguous expressions appropriate for themselves. Our mind categorizes new situations according to their similarity to old situations, and this mental shortcut is called the representational heuristic. For example, a person sees a group of people who they think have generally known characteristics. These people dress like people in a certain occupational group, have similar speech patterns, and seem to be in a certain age range. In this case, the person might use the representational heuristic to infer that "these people look like the others, so they probably have the same occupation". The representational heuristic also plays a critical role in understanding the Barnum Effect. The ambiguity of the statements used in the Barnum Effect increases the likelihood that the reader will be able to find an example from past experience that matches these statements.

In an experiment conducted by psychologist B.R. Forer in the 1940s, the Barnum Effect was explored using the paragraph you read at the beginning of this article. In this experiment, Former presented his students with a sophisticated personality analysis. The paragraph you just read called a sophisticated personality analysis, was taken from the astrological sun sign column of a local newspaper. Forer then asked each student to rate how well this paragraph described them on a scale of one to five (one being bad and five being excellent) and found that the class average was 4.2. Forer's simple and easy-to-administer test laid the groundwork for other psychologists to extend the experiment by providing more detailed test profiles.

In conclusion, the so-called "Barnum effect" suggests that descriptions are generally highly rated by participants and that this is linked to representational heuristics. The ambiguity of the statements allows individuals to reconcile these descriptions with their own experiences, contributing significantly to the perceived accuracy of the feedback. This highlights the complexity of the Barnum Effect, emphasizing the influential role of subjective interpretation and heuristics in personality assessments.


Beyerstein, B., & Beyerstein, D. F. (1991). The Write Stuff- Evaluations of Graphology, the Study of Handwriting Analysis. Prometheus Books.
E. Aronson et. Al. (2019).Social Psychology. 10th Edition. Pearson

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