Today, I gave out free personality tests to
anybody who wanted one. – Personality test?
– Yeah, you wanna take a free personality test? The folks that took part in it just loved it. This is pretty spot-on! Yeah, I’d say it seems pretty – seems pretty accurate. – But here’s the thing:
– I love that. The results weren’t real. Let me explain. So I’ve been thinking about manipulation and disinformation and pseudoscience a lot lately. It sure seems like there’s been more of it than ever these days thanks to the internet. You’ve got Gwenyth Paltrow shilling her Goop products, astrology seems to be making a comeback
in popularity, and somehow psychics continue to stay in business?? Which I really cannot comprehend, like… do they just not have any overhead? Are they living out of their houses and doing work from– I don’t know. Anyway, I often find myself wondering, how is it that people fall for this stuff? And I don’t mean reading your horoscope every
once in a while and thinking it’s cute. I mean…really thinking it’s legit. Does it take a certain kind of person? Are those folks just more gullible? Could you, my intelligent, scientifically-inclined subscriber, be susceptible? I needed to find out, so I went to the beach! No swimming today though, just free personality tests. – Any interest in a free personality test?
– We’re good. Could I offer you a free personality test? All right. Hi, how’re you doing? – Any interest in a free personality test today?
– Oh we’ve been doing that all day. Oh yeah? (laughs) You guys want a personality test? – It’s free? I kinda wanna do it.
– Awesome. Yeah, come on up. What is it based on? Here’s what I did. Everyone that agreed to participate received The Big Five Personality Test. It’s sometimes also called the OCEAN personality test, which is an acronym for the five parts of your personality the test evaluates: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. – You’re gonna evaluate me, right?
– Sure am. The participants are all taking an actual
version of the personality test, which is a 50-question inventory. Each box contains a statement about a behavior or personality trait and you have to rate the statement
from 1 to 5 where one means disagree and five means agree. And I’m actually scoring these
things, too, to get the results. After that, I hand each participant a summary of their personality based on their scores… This one’s yours. I ask that you not share
results with each other yet. Please just read through them. and they get to read the results. So these are your results. Go ahead and read them over and then once you finish I’m gonna ask you a few questions. – So far it’s spot on. – That’s pretty good, I’d say.
– Yeah? – That’s so funny we were just talking about…oh, sorry. But what they don’t know is, I’ve given them all the same results. – One of them is like, oh gosh, that’s like
taking a peek into me. Every single person has the same summary. – Seems accurate.
– All right. None of the statements on that page have any connection to their answers. On a scale from 1-10, how accurate is the personality summary of you? – Oh, it’s spot on. Ten.
– Ten? – Probably seven and a half or eight.
– Okay. – I’m going to say nine.
– I’d say eight. – I’d say ten. Yeah.
– Ten. All right, great Freaky, right? This is a psychological phenomenon known as the Barnum Effect. The name comes from the greatest showman himself, PT Barnum. It’s said that, during his shows, he could tell
you everything about a person’s character, just by looking at ‘em. But of course, he wasn’t peering into the souls of audience members and seeing their true nature. No, this was just a circus trick. See, he was using Barnum Statements, which are vague descriptions that can apply to…pretty much anyone. Like, for example… At times you enjoy going out with friends, but sometimes you like to stay home and relax. Or…while you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. Or…if you are watching this video,
you probably are not subscribed to the channel. Well that one’s just a joke, but… well I guess it’s also not really
a joke. I looked at the statistics and almost 90% of y’all watching are not subscribed, so if you enjoy the stuff that I do here, please consider subscribing. It helps us a ton and you don’t have to rely on the algorithm to show you our videos. And to all you who are subscribed, you’re the best! So this is what I did. I put a bunch of Barnum statements on the page that are really vague and that use hedging language like, “sometimes” or “occasionally” or “you tend to…” Most of the statements I used came from the
now-classic 1948 experiment by psychologist Bertram Forer, in which he did pretty much the exact same thing with his psychology students. The only difference is that I removed items that dealt with sex or that overtly stated negative personality traits and added in a few more of my own. Why? Well, other psychologists have replicated the study and have found that people rate the results as more accurate if there is a greater ratio of positive to negative attributes. That kinda makes sense. I mean, you’re more likely to agree with something if there’s nothing disagreeable. After that, I just put a cute little word that summarized the statement ahead of each one in order to make it seem more official aaaaaand… Voila! It’s ready to go. So why does this work? Well, the statements are general enough that your brain tries to interpret them to fit your perception of yourself. And as a result, they seem way more meaningful and personal than they actually are. That’s why horoscopes can seem eerily specific, and yet, researcheres have shown that people will rate their horoscope as highly accurate, even though the researcher simply re-labeled the horoscope from a different zodiac sign. And the strange thing is that this effect is universal. It doesn’t matter where you live or what gender you are or how intelligent you may be. The Barnum Effect could work on you. And in fact, I’d guess it already has. See, it’s not just used by astrologers,
palm readers, and daytime TV psychic John Edward. Advertisers and salespeople have exploited
the Barnum effect to make you believe that “you’re the kind of person” who would
buy this product. Politicians give speeches with broad statements like, “I represent hard-working people like you” in order to make you feel they understand your struggles. I’m sure you’ve taken a few quote-unquote “personality tests” online that tell you why you struggle to keep a relationship or which Harry Potter character you are. And perhaps you’ve even dabbled in a multi-level marketing scheme because one of your friends from high school could see with certainty that you are just waiting for an opportunity
to prove your potential and be your own boss. This may seem innocuous, until you realize that the salesperson conned you into buying expensive knockoff knives, the politician didn’t really care about the same things as you from the start, the information that you gave online is being scraped by a tech company that can be used to make a profile of you and sold to the highest bidder, and your so-called friend got you stuck in a pyramid scheme hocking
essential oils. It’s not always so innocent. So how do you protect yourself? Well… you get out your roll of aluminum foil and you make a little hat like this that you can use to protect your brain. That was a joke, please do not do that. It turns out there are some ways to make you less vulnerable to the Barnum Effect. As well as factors that may make you more susceptible. For example, there’s some evidence that
people who have experienced hardship during childhood and adolescence may be more prone
to the Barnum effect. I was thinking about this in regards to the recent popularity of astrology among Millennials and Gen Z-ers. And ya know what happened while those kids were growing up? The financial crisis. I have no evidence to back this up,
but I do think it’s an interesting correlation. In terms of how to not fall victim to your
mind’s natural tendencies, a healthy dose of skepticism with a side of awareness are your best bet. The Barnum effect relies on people taking things at face value. But if you dig a little deeper, look for evidence, and question the intentions of the person
giving you information, you may find that not everything lines up. Likewise, now that you know about them, keep an eye out for Barnum statements and understand the facts. Notice when things could apply to pretty much everybody. Realize that fortune cookies are mass-produced,
and therefore, maybe it’s not foretelling your destiny. Just…ask questions. That’s actually the main difference that I saw among participants. Of everybody that took the test, the folks that
scored the test as having the lowest accuracy asked the most questions and seemed the most
skeptical. – So we read through it and then you ask us questions?
– Yeah. How many different buckets are there? – Five categories, and then from
zero to five?
– Yeah. Exactly. – I think it’s really hard to categorize people…
– Yeah – But I mean overall, I don’t have like – I don’t look at any of these and say, “no, that’s totally wrong”, so I would say maybe like, a 6.5 or a 7? So I’m starting to wonder if these are the exact same, and you gave everybody the same results. Well it’s funny you say that, because, in
fact, that’s what happened. Wait a minute, do we have IRB approval to do this? Fake?? I’m just kidding. So what about everybody else? Well let’s just say that they were pretty surprised. What if I told you that all three of you have the exact same results right now? – Oh my god I love that.
– What?? Those are the results I’ve been giving to everybody. Ah! That’s hysterical! What if I told you that the results that you received are the same ones that I’ve been giving
to everybody else? That’s – that is really funny. They don’t apply to you at all, they have nothing to do with your scores. – So like horoscopes.
– Like horoscopes, exactly! – The numbers are not real, no.
– Not real, okay. – Everything is…got it. Fantastic.
– Yeah. Yeah, well I appreciate you participating. – I have no problems with self-esteem.
– That’s good. – All right, thank you.
– Enjoy the rest of your day. Have a great day. Thanks for watching. And until next time, I’m Micah. Think about it.