How to read minds

Back to the Future’s Doc had limited success with his psychic device

Close your eyes and let me read your mind. Hmm. Would you say you sometimes feel insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well? I sense you need others to like you, and are quite self-critical. I get the feeling you are mostly reserved, but when you feel like it, you can easily be the centre of attention. And you… you seem to be on the brink of making a big decision. I’m getting something about telephones; does a broken phone mean anything to you?

This is the Forer or Barnum effect. P. T Barnum was a fascinating 19th Century showman and hoaxer. He said he had “something for everyone” which of course he did! These statements are so general they can apply to anyone and are still used by psychics, palm readers and astrologers all the time to great effect. Some even cleverly contain totally opposite ideas in one sentence: remember when I asked you if you were sometimes shy, but then sometimes outgoing, too?

Horoscopes are full of Barnum statements – but don’t take my word for it. Look at these predictions from different star signs on How many of them apply to you (or anyone who might be likely to read and believe their horoscopes)?

“You can’t resist planning for the future”

“Your imagination may be working overtime”

“You could launch yourself in a new direction. This looks as though it will be connected with style”

“Communications are likely to be of the sparkly sort: with one email or call necessitating another”

“You might be inspired by someone who doesn’t look for limitations but instead focuses on making change so that other people’s genius (including yours) can be realised”

“You could attract attention from someone who appreciates your ability to laugh at yourself”


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