“We can more easily recognize ourselves in vague, mostly positive and general personality descriptions”

forer effect

The Forer Effect is our tendency to highly rate the accuracy of descriptions of our personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to us. However, they are in fact vague, mostly positive and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.

Because the message is positive, but also slightly vague, we can project our own meaning into the statements, and thus, the statement becomes ‘personal’ to us (though, be aware that the self-serving bias has been shown to cancel out the Forer effect).

Scientific research example:

Imagine you just started university and you get your first introductory course in psychology. Your psychologist (called Bertram Forer) gives you a personality test to fill in. So you do. A week later Bertram presents the results. The resulting personality description includes sentences like “you have a great need for other people to like and admire you”, “you have a tendency to be critical of yourself” and “you have a great deal of unused capacity”…

How do you rate the accuracy of this description to fit your own personality? Well, Bertram Forer found that on average his students (back in 1948) rated their personality description with a 4.2 on a 5-point scale. Pretty good for a description that – in reality – was the same for everyone.
forer effect horoscope

Online Persuasion tips:

If you want your customers to personally bond with your brand, or if you can otherwise use ‘a feeling of recognition within your prospect’, in order to persuade him:

  • Refer to rather vague and general personality traits (e.g. “Are you the kind of person that likes to share knowledge?”).
  • List mainly positive traits of your brand or products.
  • Mention that your solution is perfect for ‘these kind of people’ (and test with having ‘an authority’ mentioning it about you).


Further reading on the forer effect: