The fascination with horoscope predictions is certainly not a new phenomenon. For as long as I have lived (a short 22 years), I have been aware of the existence of daily horoscopes for more than a-third of my life. While they seemed very accurate at first, to my 7-8 year old mind, my fascination with philosophy, and with the aid of general common sense, I soon came to understand what is known as the Barnum/Forer Effect.
What is this Barnum Effect?
“Barnum Effect, also called Forer Effect, in psychology [is] the phenomenon that occurs when individuals believe that personality descriptions apply specifically to them (more so than to other people), despite the fact that the description is actually filled with information that applies to everyone. The effect means that people are gullible because they think the information is about them only when in fact the information is generic.”
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)
While mostly found in Horoscopes, the Barnum Effect can also be found in fortune-telling. Take the following, for example:
“Oh, true, I am nervous about my financial situation!” But wait, think for a moment, won’t you? Do you want your name to be forever inscribed as a synonym for the word “gullible”? Isn’t everyone in this capitalist system, to some extent, worried about money? The statement is one that finds itself true for 99.9% of the population! It just happens to be phrased in a way that sounds like it is unique to you!
What I had a problem applying the Barnum Effect to, for a long time, was how personality traits determined by horoscopes could seem so accurate. Unlike Daily Horoscopes, that predict a person’s daily fortune based on their horoscope, horoscope personalities are not as overtly generic.
It is true that most Aquariuses I know are far more independent than others, to the point of often being non-committal and evasive. Even more so, they are also often much less emotional and avoid emotions like the plague. It is also true, that as a Taurus, I find myself being far more stubborn and resilient than others around me, almost like the bull that represents my horoscope.
Surely, I thought with my Taurus brain that refuses to let others dictate what I do, my personality, my life and my destiny cannot be determined simply by the time I was born in!
Here, I am tempted to make a reference:
Indeed, I woke up one day with a realisation (follow me here):
I don’t like letting others dictate what I do – that is true. But the fact that I don’t let others dictate my life is both a point about stubbornness as much as it is about independence. I am an Earth sign, as a Taurus, the opposite of an Air sign, such as an Aquarius. Yet, the need to make my own decisions, to decide my own life, is an indication of wanting to be free, although it lies in a different expression. Being a Taurus, sitting almost opposite the sign of Aquarius, does not mean that I share no similarities.
No, in fact, I think it’s because I think “I am a Taurus” that makes the occasional clingy-ness seem more pronounced compared to my usual “Don’t fuck with me and leave me alone” self.
What then is my base hypothesis?
Horoscope personalities seem accurate only because it focuses the individual’s attention only specific parts of their personality at the expense of other parts. The individual also ends up paying little attention to the why – why am I so stubborn? – choosing instead to absorb the information as: “Wow, how accurate!”
Case Analysis: Me, A Taurus
1. What is a Taurus?
Taureans are born between 20 April to 21 May. It is the second of the horoscopes, coming after the fire sign, Aries. This makes Taurus the first Earth sign.
Elements of the Horoscopes
Fire: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Earth: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Air: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Water: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Fire signs tend to be passionate, dynamic and temperamental. It can keep you warm or cause great destruction. While fire burns out quickly, it also regenerates from its ashes. A single spark can cause a forest. Fire signs need to be nurtured and managed carefully. Fire and Air cause massive destruction. With Water, one will not survive while the other exists. With Earth, they are controlled and limited.
Air signs are about action, ideas and motion – the winds of change. When a strong gust hits you, you can’t help but move. Some within their ranks can be “airheads” while others are terrifyingly gravity-defying. Air signs represent a breath of fresh air. You can never catch them and they will never stop for you. Air will evaporate Water and leave as soon as it dries up. With Earth, neither gives way – the Air will not stop moving, the Earth will not start moving.
Earth signs are about keeping it real. They are “grounded” and are those who bring us down to earth. They remind us to start with a solid foundation, the “builders” of the horoscopes. Loyalty and stability are their strong suits and will stick with you through tough times. They can be painfully practical and materialistic, or too focused on the surface of things. It absorbs Water and keeps it safe. With Earth, it cools its temperament.
Water signs are emotional and ultra-sensitive, mysterious as the depths of the ocean. They can either be refreshing or drown you in their depths. They often have intense dreams and borderline-psychic intuition. Security is important to them, since water needs a container or it dries up and disappears.
Taurus is represented by the Bull, which in turn embodies a strong-willed character with great perseverance and determination. In India, Taurus is known as Vrsabha, a name occasionally given to Shiva and his vehicle Nandi, as well as the 1st of the 24 Jain Tirthankara. In Egypt, Taurus was seen as the cow goddess Hathor, the goddess of beauty, love and happiness. She represented the riches seen in cattle as the providers of nourishment. Roman astrologers considered Taurus ruled by Venus, the goddess of beauty, earth and nature.
ii. The Personality of a Taurus
The anime photo above is accurate. It is taken from an anime called “Starry Sky” where each of the male characters represent a horoscope. Kanakubo Homare is the representation of Taurus. In Japanese, “Kanakubo” means gold and protect, while “Homare” means promise/vow. It accurately summarises the 3 base personality traits of Taureans: materialistic, protective and always keeping their promises.
The words below are badly translated, but it is supposed to read:
“I can’t show this happiness no matter how much I smile. There, I choose to hold you firmly in my arms. My throbbing heart will express my desire to stay with you forever.”
Even this plays into the personality of a Taurus. The first line plays into the stereotype that Taureans are terrible at showing or articulating their emotions. They aren’t particularly emotionally-aware. The second line represents how Taureans are all about actions over words – their affections are better felt through what they do, rather than what they say. The last line is the romantic Taurus – we supposedly make for great partners due to our “forever” mentality due to our loyalty – we also often make the mistake of staying longer than we should with someone, friends or otherwise.
To summarise simply, here are the traits of a Taurus:
Positives: Reliable, Patient, Practical, Devoted, Responsible, Stable
Negatives: Stubborn, Possessive, Uncompromising, Materialistic, Shallow
Others: Dresses well, extremely sensual, likes to eat
2. What are true? Why?
I would say with absolute certainty that I am patient, devoted, stubborn, possessive and I like to eat. These are distinct from traits that are most likely to be true, which are reliable, practical, uncompromising and I am sensual.
Now, it is important to (1) look at why I am ___ and then (2) figure out if being a Taurus disproportionately focuses on ___.
Patience, stubbornness and being unable to compromise stem from the same thing – being fixed and the unwilling to move. Being patient requires one to stand their ground in the face of opposition, and being stubborn and uncompromising is taking that into a negative extent. That comes from the fact that, as an only child, I had to “put up with” a lot of ranting from my Asian family. With time, it became obvious to me that being patient has the best outcome – I get applauded as a good kid and I don’t get lectured. Eventually, this ability to sit and listen, holding back my own thoughts, solidified as the ability to hold my ground silently.
Is that being played up? Yes, I would say it is. I am not stubborn to the point that I cannot give in when I know I am wrong. I am not uncompromising to the extent that I don’t take advice on things I am unsure about. At the same time, my patience breaks easily when it comes to certain issues – it is not a constant. Even I recognise that I play up these traits on a daily basis for humour, but one of my friends puts it well: It is less about being stubborn than it is about confidence. Confidence is not a Taurean trait.
I consider devotion and reliability together as it is the ability to be “stubborn” specifically in relation to someone else. I am devoted as a friend only because I have been betrayed before, and I know that loyalty is a key component of a friendship. Reliability comes from the same betrayal – a best friend of 8 years left me because I was “no longer useful”. While it took me a while to realise that that should not be the basis of a friendship, what I started doing was making sure that I was useful, that my friends could rely on me for something. With the help of a friend, who is also very loyal but expressed in other ways, I have come to realise that friendships aren’t utilitarian (though I demanded it only from myself). Still, being reliable is something I hold with pride.
Possessiveness is something I struggle with. I am easily jealous, very easily. Again, this comes from things I have lost, and because of how I was raised, I often see my losses as my own fault – I did not hold on tight enough, so they left. I understand very logically that the desire to possess is shallow and inherently selfish, but it comes from a deep-seated fear that whispered, “Please don’t leave me.” So acts done in possessiveness is done often with fear – that is where the line between loyalty-reliable and possessive should be drawn.
There are a lot of traits to discuss, so I will stop it here. With these, I have proved that although traits relating to patience and stubbornness are indeed true, they are also characteristics I play up and they stem from a trait that isn’t inherently “Taurean”. Furthermore, my devotion/loyalty, reliability and possessiveness are a result of traumatising past experiences, that I am only now starting to learn to move away from.
3. What are definitely not true?
I insist that I am not stable, materialistic or shallow, neither do I care to dress well.
Firstly, stable is too broad a word. I consider myself not stable, because my experiences with depression over 5-7 years have left me unstable when encountering specific conditions. Does that mean I come from a state where I was initially very stable? Not really. My family has always considered me to be a weird kid, not only because I brought up weird topics that are highly philosophical, but also because I kept jumping from one thing to another. I would argue that while it has been kept under control as I aged, I still have the tendency to become childishly spontaneous whenever I find a kindred soul I am comfortable enough to be like that around. I have simply been taught to calm down.
Secondly, I think I am way too idealistic and head-in-the-clouds sometimes to be considered shallow. In fact, the opposite is true. I often get so into my own head I have trouble being shallow. The idea of sit and not think is just impossible. Here, I need to make a really passive-aggressive note: Being a Taurean female is somehow always about being seductive, sensual and loving physical intimacy. Yet, I have found that I think intelligence – in terms of having knowledge, insight and creativity about one’s passion – is far more attractive. In fact, a guy who cannot either (a) talk extensively about his interests, or (b) keep up with my conversations, is very unappealing. I think “shallow” is actually one of the worst insults anyone can throw at me.
Materialistic? And dresses well? That definitely isn’t me. I am the kind of person who walks to her wardrobe in the morning, grabs 2 things that will work in the particular weather, i.e. I won’t freeze, and changes into them. The only quasi-fashionistic thing I do is to make sure there aren’t more than 4 colours, at the most, in a single outfit. Other than that, I can care much, much less about what I am wearing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that guys who genuinely don’t care how casual you look when going out are a gift from God. Because honestly? If you don’t like how I look, then close your eyes. I want to feel nice and comfy in my hoodie, and I love flannels, so I really don’t care if that’s not girly, feminine or fashionable. (Can you tell how absolutely triggered I am?)
4. What are some other problems?
Now that we’ve established that (1) what is true is not a direct cause of being a Taurean, (2) it is almost as false as it is true, I want to talk about some inner inconsistencies.
First of all, can they decide whether Taureans are clingy and thus, highly dependent and social creatures, or are we independent?
Yes, I do recognise that inconsistency in myself. Yet, I would like to mention that a certain other Taurean I know is way more clingy and needy than I am. If your answer is, “Oh, of course everyone has a different threshold,” I need you to catch yourself quickly. Barnum effect. If you want to make that trait so vague, then the entire trait itself is subject to the Barnum effect. This other Taurus is a true social butterfly and becomes a truly happy (and bad-decision-making) drunk. On the other hand, I sometimes disappear off my friends’ radars for days, only to emerge as if nothing happened. “Left alone sometimes?” Define that “somtimes” and to what extent “left alone”.
Secondly, that Tauruses are not quick to anger, but explosive when that happens. Again, this is a line-drawing thing that easily falls into the trap of Barnum effect. Everyone has their own thresholds to losing their temper. Maybe Taureans have a generally higher threshold, but I’ve seen people of other horoscopes have a higher one. For example, I know an Aquarian with an incredible amount of patience. Hey, shut it. I know Aquarians also have their threshold really high. Then, may I ask, what then is the differentiation between the two? If there exists a difference, where does it come from?
As far as I know, Taurus and Aquarians are like oil and water, how could they possibly be similar on a trait like that? Shouldn’t that mean their patience for each other’s nonsense is very high? Sure, a lot of the reason is because Taureans think Aquarians are way too unstable while Aquarians find Taureans shallow and boring – that’s untrue, by the way – but it still does not answer that previous question.
In the end, we are still playing into that idea that Taureans are represented by the Bull, bulls are slow to anger by highly destructive, and therefore, Taureans are destructive. That is not a logical flaw in itself – the argument is sound. The premises are problematic.
That brings me to my last point on logical arguments. The very notion that I am a Taurus, therefore I am stubborn and I am stubborn, therefore I must be a Taurus is such a clearly circular argument. Nothing points to the connection in between that makes a logical link.
In the end, I am just a silly person trying to make sense of something that boggles my mind. I cannot accept the fact that something like horoscope personalities can be accurate but has no basis for its accuracy. It’s less that I want to prove it wrong. No, I don’t want to. I simply want to understand. How can it be accurate? Why is it accurate? To what extent is it truly accurate? I want to know.
How’s that for being a Taurean now?
Although…maybe that’s because I am an INFJ? *laughs*