Barnum Forer Effect

Hey everyone, today we’re going to talk about the Barnum Effect, otherwise known as the Forer Effect. The idea behind this cognitive bias is that people tend to believe very generic things about themselves. P.T. Barnum used this fact to con people and to get them into doing things. This is also why palm readers and astrologists are believable to people. They tell you, “Well, you’re a very strong person.” Who doesn’t believe something so broad and simple? This is why horoscopes are so popular because people can read into these things.

So, Barnum Forer did a study, which has been replicated many, many times, where he gave his students a personality assessment based on stuff they filled out and did. Almost every single one of them said that the assessment that he returned to them was totally accurate. It was them, and it totally felt like them. And then he revealed that he had given them the same results to every student. You can Google this, you can find videos of people who are replicating this process. There’s even some seedy side to this effect where people use this for pickup lines by just using these generic statements and finding ways to connect with people that aren’t really genuine.

So, we want to be careful here in our business world, and working with our employees that we’re not being taken advantage that way; that people are not using those techniques against us to try to manipulate us or get us to do things that we probably don’t want to do. But even deeper than that, we want to be a little bit weary about personality tests. Because personality tests, especially those that maybe don’t have a great deal of academic validation behind them, can often come back with these results that make us think that we are this certain type. Again, because it’s these very generic things that sound like us, or represent how we want to be seen. So, we want to make sure that we are not allowing those things to be used to promote people or to give them specific tasks or jobs if there’s not a great amount of data and science behind it.

We also really want to poke holes in things like this, right? When I have done personality tests with my own staff, I’ve asked them, “Are there times when this is not true?” We need to think critically about the things that tests are saying. This can really help us be better about understanding our people better, understanding ourselves better, and making sure that we’re not being manipulated or in some way sort of pushed into doing something that we don’t want to do.

I hope this information on cognitive bias helped you today. I’m trying to get through all 50 of the most common biases. You can watch my past videos or read my blogs and look for me, hopefully, next week, as I record more.