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Barnum Effect

  1. Bernard C. Beins

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0108

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Beins, B. C. 2010. Barnum Effect. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1.

Author Information

  1. Ithaca College

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


The Barnum Effect refers to the tendency of people to accept vague, generally positive statements about their personality as unique to them even though feedback is likely to be true of most people. Bertram Forer (1949) first systematically documented this phenomenon by presenting to students a clinical personality inventory followed by statements from horoscopes that purported to describe each student as “You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.” Even though all students received identical feedback, they rated the description as highly relevant to them as individuals. Many students failed to accept a number of the individual feedback statements as highly accurate in describing them, but they still gave high ratings of the overall validity of the feedback.


  • positive bias;
  • selective memory;
  • memory distortion