In 1948, University of California, Los Angeles psychology professor Bertram Forer decided to take a personality test for his students. After the students carefully filled out the forms, he collected them and, after a while, gave each of them a description of his character. The students were then asked to rate the accuracy of the descriptions they received.
The marks were very high. On a scale of zero to five, Forer’s description scored an astonishing 4.26 – it appears that Professor Forer developed an excellent test.
However, Forer did not even look at student surveys. In fact, all of them received the same text describing his character. And all of them found him seriously injured! How is this possible?
Learn about the Fourier effect
The Fourier effect is named after its discoverer. It is also sometimes called the “horoscope effect” or the “Barnum effect.”
The effect is that we consider generally formulated descriptions and characteristics about human personality to be particularly well suited. This characteristic is considered very subtle – although it is very general and suits almost everyone. This is what constellations usually look like. It is for this reason that people who have gone to divination leave feeling that she knows everything about them. Fairies and fortune-tellers have a Forer effect at their fingertips. It is also commonly used in marketing, where it is important to achieve the effect of speaking specifically to the recipient about their needs.
It was also the text that Professor Forer gave the students as an assessment of their personality. Its text is as follows:
You need people to like and admire you, but you are a decisive person. You have certain character flaws, but you can compensate for them with what is good in you. You have great opportunities that remain untapped. While on the outside you may appear disciplined and grounded, on the inside you are often insecure and anxious about many things. Sometimes you have serious doubts about whether your decision was correct or whether your actions were correct. You like a certain amount of change and variety, and when you are surrounded by limitations, you feel dissatisfied. You value the independence of your thinking and do not accept the claims of others without convincing evidence. Life has taught you not to be too open to someone. Sometimes you are open to people, friendly and sociable, but other times you are closed, cautious and aloof. Some of your dreams seem unrealistic.
Right, convincing? The text is written in such a way that it is practically impossible to disagree with it. Subsequent research (a similar study was repeated thousands of times) showed that three main factors have a significant impact on text reception.
First, we are more likely to believe judgments of ourselves that mostly or only describe positive qualities. When they point out any flaws, they become less credible in our eyes.
Second: the effect is reinforced by the situation in which we believe the description has been prepared specifically for us, based on our survey. Note how commonly this is used in online services!
Third, the effect increases if the defendant believes in the authority of the person who signs the description in his name.
The influence discovered by Betram M. Forer is popular today not only in horoscopes, but also in advertising and in written texts for marketing purposes. We will also meet its elements in the presentations of many teachers who are trying to sell us, for example, an online get-rich-quick course. Knowing this effect and understanding how it works will help prevent it.
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