Tag Archives: subjective validation

Cold Reading

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” —Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Note: to understand cold reading you must understand subjective validation.

psychic_300pxCold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to “mysteriously” know things about the subject. Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank on their subject’s inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is. The desire to make sense out of experience can lead us to many wonderful discoveries, but it can also lead us to many follies. The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable. He knows, too, that people are generally self-centered, that we tend to have unrealistic views of ourselves, and that we will generally accept claims about ourselves that reflect not how we are or even how we really think we are but how we wish we were or think we should be. He also knows that for every several claims he makes about you that you reject as being inaccurate, he will make one that meets with your approval; and he knows that you are likely to remember the hits he makes and forget the misses.

Thus, a good manipulator can provide a reading of a total stranger, which will make the stranger feel that the manipulator possesses some special power. For example, Bertram Forer has never met you, yet he offers the following cold reading of you:bertram-forer_200px

Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others’ opinions without satisfactory proof. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside.

Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you.

Here’s another reading that you might find fairly accurate about you:

People close to you have been taking advantage of you. Your basic honesty has been getting in your way. Many opportunities that you have had offered to you in the past have had to be surrendered because you refuse to take advantage of others. You like to read books and articles to improve your mind. In fact, if you’re not already in some sort of personal service business, you should be. You have an infinite capacity for understanding people’s problems and you can sympathize with them. But you are firm when confronted with obstinacy or outright stupidity. Law enforcement would be another field you understand. Your sense of justice is quite strong.

The last one was from astrologer Sidney Omarr. He’s never even met you and yet he knows so much about you (Randi 1982: 61). The first one was taken by Forer from a newsstand astrology book.

psychicFair_210pxThe selectivity of the human mind is always at work. We pick and choose what data we will remember and what we will give significance to. In part, we do so because of what we already believe or want to believe. In part, we do so in order to make sense out of what we are experiencing. We are not manipulated simply because we are gullible or suggestible, or just because the signs and symbols of the manipulator are vague or ambiguous. Even when the signs are clear and we are skeptical, we can still be manipulated. In fact, it may even be the case that particularly bright persons are more likely to be manipulated when the language is clear and they are thinking logically. To make the connections that the manipulator wants you to make, you must be thinking logically.

Not all cold readings are done by malicious manipulators. Some readings are done by astrologers, graphologists, tarot readers, New Age healers, and people who genuinely believe they have paranormal powers.

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Debunked: Astrology and Horoscopes

via RELATIVELY INTERESTING

astrology_854_300pxOver 2300 years ago, the Babylonians came up with the idea that the gods lived among the stars and other celestial objects, and were able to impose their will on humanity by controlling the destinies of individuals and nations alike.  The Babylonians divided the sky into 12 “slices”:  which we now know as the signs of the zodiac… Taurus, Pisces, etc.  There are many variations of astrology, but they are all founded upon the idea that celestial objects can influence a person’s personality and destiny.

Today, according to a Gallup poll, 25% of American believes in Astrology.  In this article, we’ll investigate why horoscopes and astrology sometimesappear to be correct by reviewing the concept of subjective validation, the Forer Effect, and Gauquelin’s famous horoscope experiment; we’ll take a look at what an astronomer has to say about astrology;  we’ll review some of the logical issues with astrology; and finally, we’ll take a look at how easy it is to debunk horoscopes yourself.

Subjective Validation and the Forer Effect

crystal_ball_01“Subjective validation” occurs when two unrelated or random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus, people find a connection between the perception of their personality and the contents of their horoscope.

The concept of subjective validation was put to the test in 1948 by psychologist Bertram R. Forer.  Forer gave a personality test to each of his students. Afterward, he told his students they were each receiving aunique personality analysis that was based on the test’s results, and to rate their analysis on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) on how well it applied to themselves.

The analysis presented to the students was as follows:

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. 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. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure 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 pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

zodiac-sun-eye_250pxThe trick?  In reality, each student received the exact same analysis:  On average, the rating was 4.26/5(that is, the students found their “personal” analysis to be 85% accurate).  It was only after the ratings were turned in was it revealed that each student had received identical copies assembled by Forer from various horoscopes.

As can be seen from the profile analysis, there are a number of statements that are vague and could apply equally to anyone. These statements later became known as Barnum statements, after P.T. Barnum, who used them in his performances, allegedly stating “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Later studies have found that subjects give higher accuracy ratings if the following are true:

  • the subject believes that the analysis applies only to him or her (for example, a horoscope)
  • the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator (for example, a psychic)
  • the analysis lists mainly positive traits (for example, most daily horoscopes)

Guaquelin’s Horoscope Experiment

Mass murderer

Dr. Marcel Petiot

In another experiment, the famous French Astrologer, Michael Gauquelin, offered free horoscopes to any reader of Ici Paris, if they would give feedback on the accuracy of his supposedly “individual” analysis. He wanted to scientifically test the profession of astrology. As with Forer’s experiment, there was a trick:  he sent out thousands of copies of the same horoscope to people of various astrological signs – and 94% of the readers replied that his reading was very accurate and insightful.

What they didn’t know was that the horoscope was that of a local mass murderer, Dr. Petiot, who had admitted during his trial that he had killed 63 people.  This is clearly another case of subjective validation where subjects focus on the hits of some general analysis that’s supposed to be unique to them.

An Astronomer’s Opinion

So what does science have to say about astrology?

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