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Personal Validation Fallacy

 

Explanations > Theories > Personal Validation Fallacy

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

When asked to assess the accuracy of general words that supposedly describe our personality, we tend to score them as highly accurate. This is particularly true if they are positive and show us in a good light (although an occasional 'incisive' criticism can be very powerful).

This effect increases if we trust the source of the 'analysis' and believe that it is customized just for us.

This also works when we are asked to give or choose words that describe ourselves, where we tend to use sweeping generalisms that could describe many other people.

The personal validation fallacy is also called the Forer effect, after its originator. It is also called the Barnum effect, after the old Barnum circus, because of the way that fortune tellers will amaze us with their accuracy by using broad terms based on a simple assessment of us.

Research

Forer gave students a 'personality test' and then gave them all the same general analysis, based on an combination of horoscopes. He then asked them to rate the accuracy of the analysis, from 1 (inaccurate) to 5 (accurate). They gave an average score of 4.26.

Example

When did you last read a newspaper horoscope about you and thought it quite accurate? If you had read the other horoscopes, you might also have found that they seemed quite accurate too.

So What?

Using it

Use general terms to show you understanding of others and build trust and rapport with them.

Defending

Beware of personality assessments that use rather general descriptions. Read those for other people and share your own to check that yours works for you only.

See also

Positivity Effect, Overconfidence Barrier, Self-Perception Theory

References

Forer (1949)

 

 

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