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I know everything about you. I know who you are, what you want and what you're really like by Philip Hesketh


The assessment shown above was created by American psychologist, Bertram Forer, following his experiment on a group of students to assess their individual personalities. Of course, like most psychological studies, his experiment involved something of a deception. You see, he wasn't interested in assessing their unique personalities at all, but rather how one, randomly –generated piece of text fitted the students' own view of themselves. The results were startling. On average, students rated their 'individual assessment' as 85% accurate. Even though it was prepared in advance and the same result was given to every student.

This fake assessment was created simply by combining random snippets of horoscope readings. It demonstrates how easily people can be led to believe something even when it isn't true. This is relevant when studying the work of practitioners who use personality assessment as part of their trade.

The technique was even named after Bertram. Although it was later amended from the Cheating Lying Bastard Effect to the more PC 'Forer effect'. Today, the term describes a person's tendency to interpret general statements as being accurate for them personally. This is particularly true when presented with a random personality assessment and told it has been written especially for them. They simply look for anything that could be true and this influences them in rating the entire assessment as highly accurate. It's also the reason why a fortune teller need only get one small fact correct. Believers will latch onto this as proof that other facts yet to occur must also be genuine.

For instance, just by communicating with you via these e-newsletters I can tell that as a small child you once grazed your knee in the school playground and had it lovingly bathed by a nurse Gladys Emanuel-type character. Okay, so maybe that last bit is my personal fantasy but I bet the grazed knee bit is true. How do I know? Because it happened to us all.

An experiment in 1979 by French statistician Michel Gauquelin proved the gullibility of people when interpreting horoscopes. He asked 150 participants to rate a horoscope reading for its accuracy in describing their character. 94% rated it as on the money. But, of course, the readings were again fake. In fact, all 50 participants had been given the horoscope of a serial killer named Marcel Petiot. It's fair to say that some of them were spitting blood when they found out. Another bizarre coincidence with Marcel.

The experiment didn't take place on April Fools' Day, but it might just as well have done. Of course, it could be true that today you do indeed encounter a tall, dark, handsome stranger. But he's just as likely to issue you with a parking ticket as sweep you off your feet. Which for most of us blokes is probably a bit of a relief.

The Forer effect is found in many areas related to the paranormal. For example, psychic readings, biorhythms, and Tarot card sessions. You name it, it's working its magic in one way or another. So don't get caught out this All Fools Day and remember the one thing that everybody wants is something you can give them quite easily.

To be treated as an individual.