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Mind

Psychology vs Astrology

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticApril 12, 2012 3:39 AM

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Are personality tests any more accurate than astrology?

A lovely study I just came across examined this question: Science Versus the Stars. The researchers took 52 college students and got them to complete a standard NEO personality questionnaire. They also had to state the date, time and place of their birth.

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Three weeks later, the participants were then given two personality summaries - one based on the personality tests, and one on their astrological chart generated with a computer program.

The trick was that everyone also got a pair of bogus summaries, one of each kind. These were simply someone else's results, picked at random from the other 51 volunteers. They weren't told which were the fakes and which were real - they had to work it out, based on which one matched them best.

The results showed that the subjects were no better than guessing when trying to tell which of the two astrology charts was theirs. They were able to pick their own personality scores better than chance, although only 80% of them got it right, and guesswork gets you to 50% - so this is not all that impressive. Psychology beat astrology, but hardly by a landslide.

This study is a modern update of Shawn Carlson's classic 1985 Nature paper, A double-blind test of astrology. In Carlson's experiment, though, people weren't even able to accurately pick out their own personality scores.

When asked to say which of the four reports was the best match overall match to their personality, 55% of the participants picked their own real personality one - but no fewer than 35% preferred one of the astrology charts, and 10% went for someone else's personality scores. Hmm.

The authors say

the present results represent less of an endorsement of psychological measures than a further indictment of astrology.

but I think it's interesting that even under very favorable conditions (only one fake personality test), people were well short of perfect accuracy at spotting their own psychological scores - which they had themselves produced by filling out a questionnaire, just weeks before. Whether that tells us more about the NEO test, the participants' memory, or the fact that all the students at Conneticut College are pretty much the same, I'll leave it for you to judge...

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Wyman, A., and Vyse, S. (2008). Science Versus the Stars: A Double-Blind Test of the Validity of the NEO Five-Factor Inventory and Computer-Generated Astrological Natal Charts The Journal of General Psychology, 135 (3), 287-300 DOI: 10.3200/GENP.135.3.287-300

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