Sat. Sep 23rd, 2023
belief - kid blowing dandelion seeds from flower

The inspiration for this write-up is the Forer effect, which is the tendency for most people to identify with otherwise-general descriptions that are said to be about them.  In other words – if someone says we have various personality traits, we are inclined to believe them if the person says the description is truly about us.

Over 60 years ago, this effect was first verified in an experiment by psychologist Bertram Forer with some students. He constructed a personality assessment from various horoscopes, and gave the same assessment individually to every student who took a personality test.

The assessment included sentences such as:

At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved.

Almost anyone can find some truth about themselves in sentences like that.  And, in repeated experiments that tendency held true.  And with social media and other online (or offline) interactions, there is perhaps the same tendency to follow the Forer effect.

If a social media tool analyzes our online traits and provides us with a judgement, we probably will think it must have truth in it.  After all, it’s about us, based on our own input.

Even knowing that an interaction is non-human, such as interacting with a “bot” of some sort (or a voice response system), we still feel that the interaction is ours alone.  But perhaps like a credit score run amok with other people’s information, we should not accept the assessment without making sure it’s not co-mingling our information with others.

To some extent, what you believe becomes your reality, and certainly our belief can get us past otherwise-overwhelming challenges.

If a new tool tells you that you are #780 of all influencers worldwide (or on your favorite site), you are inclined to want to believe it. But what if it were partly a randomly-generated number?


And in a perhaps orthogonal way, an online persona is our own Forer effect upon the world, and this can be bolstered using social networks.  It’s the same old technique put online: if enough people refer about someone as a visionary, then it is easier to believe to be true about that person.  And we can get others to say those nice things about us!

Long-established sites such as Facebook & LinkedIn, along with newer sites such as TikTok, are also trying to enhance their picture of who you are via your social network, in order to provide you with more relevant information (and, of course, advertisements).

While this social network assessment technology is still evolving, over time we are likely to increasingly expect our online services to deliver us what we will like, without us having to do much to filter those information & media feeds.  Just say (one day) to your phone/PDA – “I want to watch a minute of the most interesting clips of my friend’s party last night, and after that chill out for about 30 minutes to some new music like what I heard there.  Go!” and you just might get what you instructed.

And you may believe it’s been done just for you.