Enter your name and e-mail address to quickly register to comment and be notified of new articles.
Quick Reg!

one moment please...

Check out the Academy of Reason. Online Courses for the Free Thinking Community!
Blog Home Tags:
cognitive biases

Forer Effect

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consutlant
posted Friday Feb 26, 2016 08:48 AM

image loading...

Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consutlant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

You can read my full bio at http://www.BoBennett.com.

The Forer effect refers to the tendency for people to accept generic personal feedback consisting of relatively trivial statements with a high base rate, as being highly accurate (Tobacyk & Milford, 1988).

In 1949, Bertram R. Forer published the results of an experiment he conducted on the fallacy of personal validation (Forer, 1949).  He was able to convince the vast majority of his 39 psychology student participants that a generic personality profile (most of which was taken from a newsstand astrology book) was written specifically for them.  This effect (or a variation of it) that goes by many names including the Barnum effect, subjective validation, and personal validation effect, has been empirically demonstrated numerous times since Forer's 1949 experiment.

This effect is strongly associated with paranormal beliefs in a bi-directional relationship where in one direction, those who profess having paranormal powers (e.g., astrologers, clairvoyants, faith healers, fortune tellers, graphologists, mediums, Tarot Card readers, and others) exploit this effect to gain more believers in their "powers."  In the other direction, those who tend to believe in the paranormal (specifically, spiritualism) are significantly more likely to fall victim to the Forer effect (Tobacyk & Milford, 1988).  This creates a feedback loop of increasing gullibility.


Example #1: This effect is what makes cold reading possible.  One skilled at cold reading knows how to read body language and facial expressions while making generic statements or statements that are statistically likely to apply to the person having the reading.  Because of the confirmation bias, people who tend to believe in the powers of the one giving the reading tend to remember the hits and forget the misses, resulting in a perceptually remarkable but completely explainable experience.

Example #2: You are facing a very important decision in your life—whether or not to take a job as the VP of marketing for a big software firm.  You ask the universe to give you a sign pointing you in the right direction.  After a couple of days, you are reading a magazine and you see an ad for the software firm.  You take this as a sign to accept the job.

This is an example of subjective validation—seeing two unrelated events (i.e., a coincidence) as being related in meaning due to one's existing beliefs or preferences, conscious or unconscious. 

Example #3: Fortune cookies.

Example #4: Bible verses.

Example #5: Horoscopes.


Dmitruk, V. M., Collins, R. W., & Clinger, D. L. (1973). The “Barnum effect” and acceptance of negative personal evaluation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 41(2), 192–194. doi:10.1037/h0035106
Forer, B. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation - a classroom demonstration of gullibility. JOURNAL OF ABNORMAL AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 44(1), 118–123.
Tobacyk, J., & Milford, G. (1988). Paranormal beliefs and the Barnum Effect. Journal of Personality Assessment, 52(4), 737.
Private, Anonymous Comment On This Post (no login required)Your comment below will be anonymously sent to the post owner, it will not be posted, and you will not get a response. To make a public comment, post below (login required).

Send Comment sending comment...

Registered User Comments

Get the Book.

"A delightful combination of straight talk, friendly challenge and a singular absence of bitter ax-grinding... he shows in plain-spoken, engaging prose how his view (and mine!) just makes better common sense.  I just love the section on heaven!  This book is quite and achievement.  Read it!" - Dr. Robert M. Price, Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies, Host of "The Bible Geek"

Get the book, The Concept by Bo Bennett, by selecting one of the following options:

Check Out Our Secular Online University: AcademyofReason.com

If you spent your life assuming "God" was the answer to all of life's biggest questions, but can no longer believe, you might have many questions that begin with the phrase, "If there is no God..." If there is no God, how did we get here? If there is no God, what's the point of life? If there is no God, where does our morality come from"? If there is no God, won't the world collapse in anarchy with murdering, coveting thy neighbor's wife, and eating shellfish? These are just some of the common questions to which there are good answers. These courses will help you build a strong foundational secular worldview based in science and reason.

Have a podcast or know someone who does? Putting on a conference? Dr. Bennett is available for interviews and public speaking events. Contact him directly here.

About Archieboy Holdings, LLC. Privacy Policy Other Books Written by Bo Contact
 Website Design and Software Copyright 2018, Archieboy Holdings, LLC. 

Component Viewer

A component is the HTML code for a section of a webpage that can be combined with other components to make a complete webpage. Click the component to insert the component code at the bottom of your current page, then customize it.