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With all of the recent uproar about everyone’s astrological signs changing, I thought it would be beneficial to go back over the reasons why: 1) you should not fret about this change, and 2) you should be aware that astrology is completely pseudoscience.

Without going into too much detail, astrology makes wide sweeping, general statements about human/star/planet interaction, (unknowingly) taking advantage of psychological dispositions that all humans share. Basically, and I will elaborate below, you can give the same cookie-cutter astrological “horoscope” to anyone, and not only will it fit their “sign”, but they will overwhelmingly claim accuracy and personal insight.

Recently, a group has taken all of the astrological predictions for each sign from a large internet news provider (Yahoo!), and has shown just how indiscriminately astrology labels you with vague, general statements. To see their findings (graphics included), see below.

Do Fortune Cookies Influence Your Life Too?

The folks at “Information is Beautiful” made a word cloud for each astrological sign compiled from 22,000 “predictions” from Yahoo. This is what they found:

As you can see above, almost every sign has identical words used in their prediction. That certainly does not lend credence to the idea that you astrological sign gives you a specifically universe-crafted fate. Basically, the same predictions were given to everyone, regardless of their sign. In short, it’s a scam. Fortune cookies follow the same principle; predictions and “insights” are mass-produced without knowing who will receive them, and people find a way to apply the prediction to their life.

That leads to this meta-horoscope you can all use at anytime:

Ready? Sure? Whatever the situation or secret moment, enjoy everything a lot. Feel able to absolutely care. Expect nothing else. Keep making love. Family and friends matter. The world is life, fun, and energy. Maybe hard. Or easy. Taking exactly enough is best. Help and talk to others. Change your mind and a better mood comes along…

Perhaps if you want to teach your gullible friend a lesson, cut out each wedge and have them pick the one that best describes them. Odds are they will pick a sign different from their own. Unique? Hardly.

All of the words that are shaded red are unique, but they are mostly throwaway words (e.g. “instead,” “totally,” “looking”). Which words are the most prevalent (Feel, Life, Better, Sure, Keep, Energy) are the larger ones, and are simply buzzwords used by astrologers to keep the prediction vague enough so that you can find a way to apply it to your life. Unfortunately, humans have an established psychological bias in which we apply general instances to our lives as though they were highly accurate, thus being fooled by horoscopes. This is called the “Forer Effect.”

The Forer Effect

[Taken from my previous post "Is Your Life in the Stars?"]

The Forer effect is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. that is to say, an identical astrological description can be given to anyone and, although it is very general and vague, people will apply it to their own lives with high accuracy. Accuracy, remember, that is not actually there for any astrological reason. Forer demonstrated this principle in this experiment:

In 1948, psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave a personality test to his students. Afterward, he told his students they were each receiving a unique 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. In reality, each received the same analysis:

“ 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. ”

On average, the rating was 4.26/5, but 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, there are a number of statements that could apply equally to anyone.

People have a psychological tendency to take vague generalizations and apply them specifically to their own lives. This effect alone is quite enough to understand why people are fooled by astrology. Astrologers never seem wrong, because our minds find a way to make their predictions right. This positive feedback loop in turn makes astrology seem legitimate, when in fact, anyone could start up a business using that same “reading” that Forer gave to his students (but you shouldn’t because good skeptics know better).

Still Pseudoscience…

As I said above, the psychological tendency for people to apply general statements to their lives with high “accuracy” is evidence enough to explain why people are fooled by astrology. Take another look at the graphic depicting the similarity between astrological predictions. Even news sites that have “real astrologers” giving daily horoscopes make no distinction between astrological signs. The fact is that there is no evidence that the stars, planets, or their respective positions affect anyone’s life. How would stars and planets affect you anyway? Imagine the tenets of astrology from an objective perspective:

So you’re telling me that the planets and the stars, formed billions of years before we evolved, specifically influence the galactically meaningless lives of a specific species of short-lived hairless apes millions of billions of miles away?

Does that make any sense to you? It does not to me, and it does not to science.

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