The Forer Effect
What is the “Forer Effect” and why would you even care? We are all exposed to the Forer at some point in our life—some of us actually practice using it without even knowing it. The Forer Effect explains a lot about our society and predicts how people will likely react to a situation.
In 1948, renowned psychologist Bertram Forer gave his students a personality test. Afterwards, he promised them a unique personal analysis from the tests and then asked they rate the results from 1 to 5 (5 being the most accurate for describing their personality). The students did not know that every one of them received the exact same evaluation. Here is what they each received after the test:
“You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
“At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.”
The students gave an average rating of 4.26 for the personal evaluation as accurate. This could explain why horoscopes and astrology are so readily accepted as being tailored to the individual, when in reality they are extremely general in nature. Forer ultimately determined that there are three important factors required to get the subject to believe the evaluation is accurate and personal only to them.
- The subject must believe the analysis applies only to him or her.
- The subject must believe there is some authority of the evaluator.
- The analysis lists mainly positive traits.
While the Forer Effect analysis is intended for the general population, I believe every industry has its special and unique version of it. The wall and ceiling industry is no exception. We all have beliefs we know to be true; we know we are right, we have lived through experiences that others outside our industry can’t even imagine. This gives us a unique perspective on the industry.
Outsiders have probably laughed coming into our industry, prescribing a solution for a problem or dilemma we face. They have no idea of the challenges you face in your business everyday and the unusual circumstances that other industries do not have to contend with. You see, we are all subject to the Forer Effect to some degree.
While much of our industry is unique, we still tend to ignore good advice that could help, because it either means we would have to change (which is not easy for us in construction) or it is an indication that we could actually have been wrong—both scenarios do not set well with us. But without change and honest evaluation, we cannot grow; we cannot become what is possible. We all make mistakes; the trick is, do we learn from them and progress or just stay on the same path?
I gave a seminar on stucco to a small group of architects recently and toward the end of the program, an attendee commented that I must have been the best plastering contractor with all my knowledge on plastering, defect litigation and understanding the major mistakes to avoid. I immediately laughed out loud and commented, “I learned what I know because I made most of those mistakes myself.”
While I would like to believe I was the best, and smarter than everyone else, I now know I was not. But, I was always willing to look in the mirror and willing to make a change to improve. I also have to admit, I am equally susceptible to the Forer Effect. Are you?