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"The Barnum Effect" states that individuals are likely to accept general personality descriptions, this study aims to test this theory and further the research

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Hannah Baumer The difference in acceptance of personality descriptions when known to be randomly selected or thought to be personal horoscopes Abstract "The Barnum Effect" states that individuals are likely to accept general personality descriptions, this study aims to test this theory and further the research by testing whether specificity has an effect on the accuracy rating. Participants were split into two groups: the general group and horoscope group, all were given a general personality description, the horoscope group were told these corresponded to their astrological signs and the general group were made aware this was a general description. Both groups rated the descriptions as fairly accurate, supporting "The Barnum Effect" as predicted. Using an independent t-test we analysed the results and found there was no significant difference between the two groups' ratings and therefore no effect was found through varying the specificity. However this finding may be due to only having two groups, an improvement of the study would be to include more levels of specificity. Introduction Personality is an aspect of psychology that forms a key research area, the way in which individuals' thoughts, feelings, and behaviours differ, and the stability of these differences over time is of great interest to psychologists (Pervin & John, 2001). ...read more.


The present study was a partial replica of Synder's (1974) experiment, this was carried out in order to find whether Synder's results still hold validity in 2005, as the study was carried out over 30 years ago. The study involved presenting two identical personality profiles to participants in two groups. The first group were told that the descriptions were general; the second group were told the descriptions were based on their personal astrological sign. Both groups were then asked to rate the accuracy of the descriptions compared to their own personalities. It was predicted that both groups would rate the personality profile as at least fairly accurate, demonstrating the Barnum effect, and participants in the horoscope group would rate the accuracy of the profiles as higher than those in the general group, in line with Snyder's (1974) findings. Method Participants There were 150 participants who took part in the study. The mean age of the group was 20.02, with a range of 18 - 41. There were 127 females and 23 males. The participants were all 1st year undergraduate students studying psychology at Sheffield Hallam University and participated as part of a Research Methods course. ...read more.


One of the problems with the current study is that we only used two groups, rather than Snyder's method of looking at three levels of specificity, perhaps resulting in our inability to find any significance between the groups. Another problem with the study is that all the participants were Psychology students, as Dana and Graham (1976) suggested; students may be relatively na�ve and "unsophisticated", preventing the findings from being applied to individuals outside of the sample. One way that we might further this research is to look into any differences between the acceptance of personality descriptions between males and females; it may be that females are more likely to accept horoscopes than males. We could also look into the significance of using a friend to present personality descriptions to individuals, as Downey (1998) suggested females are more likely to accept their friend's bogus interpretations as a result of their 'helpfulness'. In conclusion, this study has shown that individuals are likely to accept general personality descriptions and rate their accuracy highly, supporting the Barnum effect, however the levels of specificity did not have a significant effect on the accuracy ratings, this may be due to a methodological issue in which we did not use enough specificity groups. ...read more.

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