The Psychology Behind Love Horoscopes

02/04/2013

Since ancient times soothsayers, matchmakers, and astrologists have been a part of world history. One of the most famous literary examples is Shakespeare’s King Lear in which Kent is certain that the stars guide people’s actions, while Edmund refuses to believe it. In some ways Kent and Edmund represent many peoples’ ambivalence about whether astrology can be true. Even skeptics among us may find their heart a flutter if they happen to see their horoscope in the newspaper and it says, “you will meet a tall, dark stranger today.” So what is the psychology behind horoscopes anyway? Hemera

Social psychologists have long studied the phenomenon of horoscopes. The most note-worthy study was done by Bertram Forer in the 1940s. He gave his undergraduate psychology class a personality test and the next week gave the students a list of personality qualities supposedly based on the test results. Unbeknownst to the students, everyone got the same list of traits; despite that, 85% of students rated the traits as true or somewhat true as related to them personally. This phenomenon is called the Forer effect.

One of the most important aspects of this phenomenon is that people believe that their traits are specific to them personally. This is why we read our specific Zodiac sign: it’s more personal to us based on our birth date, so it must be true, right?

Additionally, we may put more credence in horoscopes when we find there is specific evidence for why the horoscope is both personal and true. For example, on astrology.com, the horoscope for Aquarius today says, “The Moon in Scorpio brings some heavy issues to the surface to be dealt with once and for all.” There is an implication that this horoscope must be true because it is based on the moon’s position.

One of the reasons that horoscopes work is because statements feel personal, yet tend to be vague enough to apply to a wide range of individuals. This also applies to love horoscopes. For example, my specific Zodiac love horoscope for today reads: “you may be at a crossroads” (horoscope.com). Well, it does not matter whether I am married, single, or even between relationships, because being at a crossroads will apply to anyone.

Hemera
Hemera
We may, however, rely more on horoscopes for our decisions about love and relationships because we often feel more vulnerable and helpless in this area. Our love life likely feels less within our control than our careers, for example. And, is it really a stretch to use a horoscope for love decisions when we often rely upon old wives’ tales or general advice when it comes to love? For example, how many times have you heard this one: “You will find someone when you stop looking.”

In this world of uncertainty, who does not want to have a better sense of control over the uncontrollable, especially in the realm of romance? We apply irrational facts and advice to our rational world constantly, so why not do the same with love horoscopes, this ancient, easily accessible, and well-known world tradition?   

As we celebrate February, the month of love, let me leave you with a Shrink Wrapped horoscope: As you may have mixed feelings about love toward the middle of the month, consult your favorite blog for guidance and support. Happy Valentine’s Day from Shrink Wrapped!!

 

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Disclaimer: Shrink Wrapped: Sessions To Go ™ is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or supplement assessment and/or treatment by a licensed mental health professional.

Dr. Nicole Joseph © 2012


Dr. Nicole Joseph is a licensed clinical psychologist who currently works for The Child and Family Counseling Group. Dr. Joseph has experience counseling individuals, couples, parents and families. She received her undergraduate degree from American University and finished her Masters and Doctorate at the American School of Professional Psychology. For more information about Dr. Joseph, check out her website.


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