For this week’s blog post I will talk about the Barnum Effect, its cognitive effects and biases.
“At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved”. If this sentence describes you then you fall victim to the Barnum effect, as does most the population.
The Barnum effect or as it can be known as the Forer effect is a cognitive effect that is seen in media and social living. The oxford university press defines the Barnum effect as “The tendency to accept certain information as true, such as character assessments or horoscopes, even when the information is so vague as to be worthless”.
This cognitive hoax was created by P.T Barnum who was a 19th century circus showman who coined the term “A sucker born every minute”. This effect although created in the 1800’s still is used in current life as it is used in horoscopes, fortunes, and psychics, mind readers, personality tests and other popular forms of predicting ones’ personality.
The cognition behind the Barnum effect has to do with a few cognitive aspects. One reason for the effectiveness of the Barnum effect has to do with memory specifically one’s internal memory storage, where we tend to have a larger memory about ourselves compared to others and so when given a vague statement, we implicitly scan our long-term memory to find behavioral reasoning to apply to the statement making it appear true.
Another plausible reason for the internal acceptance of vague statements is based on the source of information. People are more likely to believe given information if it comes from a reliable source or a source that has previous experience at being accurate.
This for example can be applied to an experimenter with a professional demeanor, or someone who believes in superstition, good luck, or fortune can believe the statements from a psychic, mind-reader, a newspaper horoscope or a Facebook personality test. The idea behind this theory is motivation or the history or reliability of the source of information. This is more steadily applied when the information is deemed more positive than negative, this I believe is based on the idea that as humans we are optimistic about ourselves, and our future. This is represented by a couple of cognitive biases such as Social desirability bias, which is a tendency to answer questions with answers that would be deemed as favourable to receive praise or the personal validation effect where you internally validate the individual or source of information which then your acceptance of the statement increase. This is seen in the Milgram experiment and Rosenhan experiment where it showed the power of the authority.
Some researchers think that higher acceptance of bogus statements is due to human gullibility, or that we have a biological need as humans to be sociably acceptable to others, and will intrinsically agree with vague statements that tend to be false.
Other cognitive effects or biases that that coincide with the Barnum effect are the self-serving bias which is a belief in more positive traits and statements than in negative ones, which can either inhibit or increase the Barnum effect. There is also the confirmation bias where people pay less attention to information that doesn’t’t pertain to them, this is in relation to the notion that we agree with more positive information about ourselves, and so we unconsciously pay less attention to negativity especially about one’s self.
Other cognitive biases that can be represented alongside the Barnum effect is the Placebo effect believing something will work like a medication, which creates an actual effect because of the belief, not the supplement.
For this week’s photograph, I have posted a photo that I believe is a metaphor for the Barnum effect, that when you first look at the photo it appears to be a gorgeous mural, but when you look past image you seen that the mural is just covering up an old brick wall in a run down area. This is similar to the Barnum effect where once you look past the face and go deeper into the actual context, you find something different.
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Wikipedia (2016a). Social desirability bias. In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_desirability_bias
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Wikipedia (2017). Barnum effect. In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnum_effect