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. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. 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.

If you kept nodding to yourself thinking “Yup, that is so me”, then you have just fallen victim to the Forer Effect.

In 1948 psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave a personality test to his students. Promised a unique personality assessment they had to rate it for accuracy on a scale from 0 to 5. The average score wa 4.26.

But everyone received that same exact text you read above.

The trick is that all the statements are so vague they could apply to literally everyone. But as long as you believe they are about you in particular, you fill the gaps with your own meaning. Voila, a super tailored personality assessment.

This is why all the horoscopes in your daily newspaper say exactly the same things but with different words. “You will have a big challenge this week. At first it will be difficult, but you will find the strength you need to overcome. Focus on relationships.”

Further studies of the effect have shown it works on everyone, regardless of their belief in the supernatural or cultural background. It is the strongest when:

  • you believe the analysis applies only to you
  • you believe in the authority of the evaluator
  • the analysis lists mainly positive traits

It’s also interesting that given both a real and fake evaluation, most people (59%) will choose the fake evaluation to be more accurate.

The takeaway?

I’m not really sure, but it looks like all of the best marketing experts out there use a variation of this effect to achieve great sales and to get clients. It’s how self-help experts make their money. It’s how the biggest bloggers get so much traffic. It’s how the memes get frontpage on reddit and imgur. It’s why platitudes work so well.

“Vague yet relatable” is the name of the game.

Or you can just pick up guys or girls at a bar because oh mai god you understand them so well.

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