• Horoscopes are a divisive subject—some swear by their accuracy, while others find them to be a waste of time.  
  • A psychological process known as the Barnum effect may be responsible for some people’s beliefs in astrology and other forms of magical symbolism. 
  • The Barnum effect says that many of us tend to egotistically place ourselves at the center of the universe, often misinterpreting unrelated events or words as having a deep, personal, and mystical significance.  
  • But regardless of whether we believe in astrology or not, each of us has a personal belief system that guides our daily choices and governs our views on the world around us.
  • For skeptics of astrology or other belief systems, remember to sweep your own porch before judging others for their convictions. 
  • Psychological research supports keeping an open mind in order to preserve our happiness and ability to adjust to stress. 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion about astrology, which assigns meaning to the placement of the planets and the stars. Twenty-nine percent of Americans believe in horoscopes, and the people who say they don’t are quick to defend their reasons why. 

As much as some love to bash astrology, this trending practice gives people a way to process their human experience on a larger scale. For horoscope believers, the existential nature of astrology may help them retain a positive mindset as they deal with currents of unease rippling throughout the world right now. Whether we can prove that astrology is real or not might be irrelevant; if it’s offering people a healthy way to confront and cope with the obstacles in their lives, then that’s objectively a good thing. 

That may be why astrology is cementing itself as a belief system for an increasingly large number of people, many of whom desperately need something to connect with. While believing in astrology might have some real-world coping benefits, a psychological phenomenon known as the Barnum effect could explain why so many people find deep meaning from reading their horoscope. The Barnum effect may explain our tendency to believe in horoscopes, but those of us who are skeptics need to keep ourselves in line; and maybe, we can learn more about our own personal belief systems, too. 

The Ancient History Behind Modern Horoscopes 

It seems we’ve always felt the need to define our reality while we cling to a blue marble that’s hurtling through space at 490,000 mph. Before the advent of modern science, astrology was a way to make sense of our world and personal experiences. Thousands of years ago, astrology was considered stone-cold fact by many ancient peoples. Mayan, Hindu, and Chinese cultures all developed different ways to make earthly predictions by reading the stars and planets, but the type of astrology that’s familiar to most of us is different. Our love of horoscopes arises from a type known as Western astrology. 

Western astrology originated in Greece around 400 BC. It’s based on, among many other things, 12 zodiac signs. Each sign represents the position of certain stars and planets at a particular time of year. According to Western astrological beliefs, the position of heavenly bodies affects our personality, mood, and behavior at birth as well as in our daily lives. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the core message of Western astrology is that believers are encouraged to practice self-reflection and to feel deeply connected to the world and universe around them. As a whole, that’s a pretty positive message.  

While science is the pervading logic of our era, there’s no reason to sneer at those who believe in horoscopes. And considering that psychological research is telling us that keeping an open mind is the key to our happiness and contentment, there’s no harm in letting others practice their personal belief systems. 

The Bewitching Barnum Effect

We all tend to believe that our personal experience is larger and more important than it really is. At least, that’s the line of thinking associated with the Barnum effect, a psychological phenomenon that might explain our attraction to horoscopes and magical symbolism. Researchers have been theorizing for decades that the Barnum effect is responsible for the deeply personal meaning that many people draw from reading their daily horoscopes, but how? 

Primarily via grandiose, but vague and generic wording used in horoscope readings. Though readings are often portrayed as having personal significance, the reality is that many are written broadly enough to fit nearly anyone’s day, current mood, future plans, or hidden fears. The Barnum effect may partially explain the popularity of horoscopes, especially at a time when people really need something to believe in

Barnum effect or not, many people still believe firmly in astrology. From TikTok astro-influencers (WitchTokers) with thousands of followers to the masses that once hung on the words of Sydney Omarr, Western astrology is here to stay. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. 

Personal Belief Systems Can Take Many Forms 

So while we can’t always understand the rationale that guides others, we all have beliefs that shape our decisions, morality, and goals. They’re unavoidable. Belief systems exist for everyone, even people who are scientific instead of spiritual, as a way to understand their surroundings. 

Whatever we rely on — scientific data, hoodoo, horoscopes — having some differences is okay, and judging someone for a belief that doesn’t harm you isn’t necessary. What’s most important is to recognize and own our personal belief systems. Doing so can help you recognize your own biases and also serve as a refreshing way to rediscover what keeps you inspired and motivated. 

Consider the following questions: 

  • Do I allow others the space and respect to follow their own, personal belief systems?
  • How do I connect or relate myself to the world around me? What makes me feel disconnected from my surroundings? 
  • Do I need to adjust my belief system to avoid harming others through my actions or words?
  • Is there anything that confuses me about my belief system? If I am confused, why? 
  • Does my belief system empower me to feel self-confident and emotionally stable

These are only a few ways to start mapping out your belief system; if you want to take even more of a deep dive, consider talking to a therapist or life coach to understand more. A provider who specializes in mindfulness or spirituality therapy may be especially beneficial. 

Personal belief systems shouldn’t control us and they don’t have to be the same as everyone else’s. Instead, they should offer us a healthy and dependable way to regulate our emotions, and to decide what we view as right or wrong. So the next time someone tells you that Mercury is in retrograde, don’t get so crabby. After all, maybe it is. 

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