A new look at an old phenomenon: The characteristics of Barnum statements

Allison J Davis, University of Texas at El Paso


Barnum statements are personality descriptions that are true of nearly everyone (e.g. “Security is one of your major goals in life”). Forer (1949) and subsequent researchers have found that people tend to be strongly impressed by personality reports that consist of Barnum statements, a phenomenon known as the “Barnum Effect” (Meehl, 1956). Most research on the Barnum Effect over the past 50 years has relied on the original set of 13 Barnum statements created by Forer. The present study's main goal was to develop a larger pool of Barnum statements that can be used in future research. In Phase A of the study, 441 personality statements taken from astrology books were rated as self-descriptors by 386 participants. One hundred fifty of these statements were identified as Barnum statements, based on their high endorsement rates (>72.5%) by both males and females. In Phase B of the study, the characteristics of these statements and Forer's original 13 Barnum statements were examined in three samples of 50 participants each. Results from Phases A and B indicated that (a) the Barnum statements had a 6-factor structure, with five of these factors strongly resembling the Big Five personality factors, (b) endorsement rates for Barnum statements were strongly related to the statements' social desirability and the degree to which they were seen as generally true for all people, and (c) most of the original Forer statements were endorsed as true by relatively few participants and would not qualify as “Barnum Statements” according to the definition that has been used by most researchers. These findings are discussed and future research directions are described.

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Recommended Citation

Davis, Allison J, "A new look at an old phenomenon: The characteristics of Barnum statements" (2005). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1430944.