Below are 13 statements. Decide—True or False—whether each statement accurately describes you. Then add up the total number that were True.
- 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.
How many did you get? Interpret your personal Forer Score!
If you are like most people, you probably answered True to most of the items. As Forer puts it, “These statements came largely from a news-stand astrology book.” So what does your Forer Score mean? Not much. However, that wasn’t the point. The point is that such statements can seem to become meaningful to us, in the right context.
Forer gave his participants a measure called the Diagnostic Interest Blank (DIB)—a “list of hobbies, reading materials, personal characteristics, job duties, and secret hopes and ambitions of one’s ideal person.” Then later he gave them back their individual results based on their responses.
Just kidding. Everyone got back the same results: The 13 statements listed earlier. The participants were then asked to rate how effective the DIB was in revealing their true personality. On a scale from 0 (poor) to 5 (perfect), all but one participant rated the accuracy of the assessment as either a 4 or a 5. (Reminder: the 13 statements had nothing whatsoever to do with the DIB).
This basic phenomenon is now sometimes referred to as the “Forer Effect.” Information that isn’t really all that useful or specific (such as the 13 statements above) suddenly becomes evidence for the validity of something else (such as the DIB) that is in fact completely unrelated.
So how can we avoid this perceptual pitfall? It can be very difficult to discern the connection between an assessment and the feedback that we receive (if there is in fact a connection). The important question to ask is whether the feedback from an assessment is useful. Does it help you to make a decision, or tell you anything that you didn’t already know? The technical term for this is validity. When people look at a result and think, “that looks right” they are avoiding the more important question: “Is this useful?”