Friday, 11 November 2016

Let Me Tell You Your Secrets....

Hey, my dear reader, I care about you and feel I know you quite well. Let me tell you some of your secrets. You have a great need for other people to like 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; you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others; your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you; you prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations; at times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing; and you pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof.

I also know that while you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them; that you are disciplined and self-controlled outside, yet you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside; at times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved; that some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic; and that security is one of your major goals in life.

Impressed? Feel like I know you personally really well? Well please don't be. I mean, I'm sure I do know many of you pretty well, and some of you better than you think J, but all those things I wrote above are actually part of a psychology test that Bertram R. Forer gave in 1948. It was called his Diagnostic Interest Blank - and it was to a group of his psychology students who were told that they would each receive a brief character vignette or profile based on their test results. One week later Forer gave each student a supposedly personalised sketch and asked each of them to rate it on how well it applied. In reality, each student received the same sketch, with the traits I listed above.

Fairly obviously (I'd hope), what is most noticeable about the traits is that they are far from specific to particular individuals - they are general traits and behavioural patterns that are seen in pretty much all humans. It is a natural human tendency to "prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations" and to "have a tendency to be critical of yourself". As an individualised profile, there is nothing special about the reading at all.

As anyone who has scoffed at astrology, fortune telling, mediums who claim to contact the dead and crystal ball gazing will know - the Forer effect (also called the Barnum effect) is a cunning form of subjective validation which can get credulous people to part with their money by being told things they either consciously or subconsciously want to hear.

Now the thing is, part of the motivations for writing my Blogs, and why I have to be hard on people sometimes, is because the world of elected politicians, media journalists and newspaper columnists is awash with Forer effects designed to manipulate the public into embracing their policies, reading their newspaper articles, buying their books, and so on.

And it's no coincidence that the variables most strongly influencing the Forer effect in gullible customers are very closely similar to the variables that underwrite the misleading political narrative that so many people fall for - namely: the subject believes that the analysis applies chiefly to them and their life conditions; the subject too easily defers to authority of the speaker without much critical evaluation of what's being said; and lastly, the subjects prime themselves to narrowly focus on all the positives they hear while blocking out or not considering the negative connotations (as per Bastiat's Seen and Not Seen, which forms the basis of most economic and political errors of judgement).

The Trump election - which I'm not going to go on about repeatedly in Blog posts - provides an interesting window into this effect in action, but also with a strange twist of tonic. On the one hand many of the Clinton supporters were carrying on being naïve to the subjective validation her establishment kind comes out with. While on the other side, there appeared to be a mass rejection of the establishment Forer effect, but by almost equal measure a mass of wide-eyed anti-establishment suckers who ended up electing a complete moron like Trump by falling for his subjective validation. Oh how the world needs an intellectual revolution right now!