The "Barnum Effect" and Other Reasons
Why People Believe in Personality Tests and Types


Why are Christians running after personality tests and inventories? Research reveals that individuals are very prone to accept the most general character descriptions as being specifically applicable to themselves. The term given to this phenomenon is the Barnum Effect, named after P. T. Barnum, who believed that a good circus had "a little something for everybody." Even though the descriptions or descriptive terms in the inventories, typologies, and tests apply equally well to other people, individuals are gullible enough to believe they are unique to themselves. Of course, this is exactly what happens with the horoscope, palm reading, and crystal ball gazing. This is known in research literature as the illusion of uniqueness and occurs at least for positive traits.

Besides the Barnum Effect there are other reasons why people believe in personality tests and types. When influential Christians and institutions promote these tests and when enthusiasm has been engendered, people tend to trust them. There is also a tendency to support a system in which one has invested time and money, even if the money is only the cost of a book. Unfortunately, the test user who becomes committed is the main source of others being enticed. The enthusiastic user becomes the enthusiastic promoter, often merely parroting the enthusiasm of the original promoter. It may be that the real Barnum Effect is Barnumís comment, "Thereís a sucker born every minute."

Other reasons why people believe in personality tests and types include the "illusion of efficacy," "illusory correlation," "self-deception," "self-fulfilling prophecy," "illusory thinking," "numerolotry," and "gnosis." The appeal of gnosticism is in itself deceptive, because the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). As people look into themselves and as they use psychological devices for self understanding, they will consider themselves wise but become fools as they fall for the deception.

[For more information, see Chapter 11 of Missions & PsychoHeresy.]

(PAL V8N4 * July-August)


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