Astrology is popular, it’s hugely popular. It’s so popular that it has become a billion-dollar industry. Yet we all know that Astrology is pseudoscience. It’s pretty much “fake”, there isn’t any real science about it and honestly, why would anyone think that the position of a star decides whether you have leadership qualities or if you prefer to work alone? In hindsight it makes no sense, like, at all.
Yet for better or worse, I’ve seen people with wits about them still using astrology and horoscopes as if it was real. People with serious brains and talents in their field would still believe in the concept of astrology and horoscopes and would only want to date a certain sign as compared to another sign. It’s baffling to me to see these people religiously believe that humans can be stereotyped based on a position of stars in a certain time of their birth, instead of attributing their personalities based on how their environment was nurtured.
There are many psychological factors that play a role in explaining such belief. These include our desire to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves, our urge to gain a sense of control in an unpredictable world, and our tendency to take note of evidence that apparently supports our beliefs, but to ignore any evidence that contradicts them.
One of these examples is called the Barnum Effect (or the Forer Effect), which refers to people’s tendency to believe that a generic statement applies to them personally. People often accept vague, general, and ambiguous statements and apply it as if it were unique to them, while in fact it applies to most of the population.
An example of this would be “Sometimes you can be loud, outgoing, and a people person, but other times you can be quiet, shy, and reserved.” Which a lot of people would feel like it relates to them too. Yet vague statements like these floods a lot of the astrology-based personality reading sites and apps you usually go to.
Humans are narrative creatures, Monisha Pasupathi, a developmental psychologist who studies narrative at the University of Utah says that while she lends no credence to astrology, it “provides [people] a very clear frame for that explanation.” It does give one a pleasing orderly sort of feeling, not unlike alphabetizing a library, to take life’s random events and emotions and slot them into helpfully labelled shelves.
Philosophically, there is something about reading horoscopes that does imply a place in the world for oneself. Margaret Hamilton, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, told the Smithsonian Magazine in 2016 that It allows you to see yourself as part of the world: ‘Here’s where I fit in, oh, I’m a Pisces’.” Looking deeper, Julian Baggini explains that “human beings are pattern seekers, we have a very, very strong predisposition to notice regularities in nature and the world, to the extent that we see more than there are. There are good evolutionary reasons for this, in short, a false positive is less risky than a failure to observe a truth.” He then says,
“We also tend to think things happen for a reason and we tend to leap upon whatever reasons available to us, even if they’re not entirely credible.”
Horoscopes walk a fine line, and for many, a very appealing one. Baggini explains, “On the one hand, people do want to feel they have some agency or control over the future, but on the other, it’s rather frightening to think they have too much,” he then continues, “So a rather attractive world view is that there is some sense of unfolding benign purpose in the universe, in which you weren’t fundamentally responsible for everything, but were given some kind of control…. And astrology gives us a bit of both, a balance.”
People propel to astrology in the face of uncertainty. A study has shown the relation of stress and uncertainty and how humans respond from uncertainty. It has shown that not knowing what could happen is even more stressful than knowing that something bad is definitely going to happen. Astrological predictions have the framework to help human beings achieve the certainties they crave for.
Humans are hardwired to dislike uncertainty, and it has lead to the rise of popularity in astrology reading on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Indian start-up companies like AstroTalk has reported that their revenues almost doubled during the pandemic because of it.
Astrology is used as a coping device for a lot of people, it is used when there is a lot of uncertainty. According to Graham Tyson, Professor of Psychology at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, “Under conditions of high stress, the individual is prepared to use astrology as a coping device even though under low-stress conditions said person does not believe in it.”
Richard Dawkins came out strongly against astrology and horoscopes in a 1995 Independent article published on New Years’ Eve, saying “astrology not only demeans astronomy, shrivelling and cheapening the universe with its pre-Copernican dabblings. It is also an insult to the science of psychology and the richness of human personality.” Brian Cox, British physicist called astrology a “load of rubbish” on his Wonders of the Solar System program on BBC. While he came under fire for what he said, he then offered a statement to the public, “I apologize to the astrology community for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilization.”
Humans don’t tend to make decisions based on a logical, rational understanding of facts (this is probably why “cognitive dissonance” is a thing), horoscope reading then becomes a good system of action to put faith on. There’s a lot of reasons to believe what you believe, and sometimes we believe stuff because it just feels kind of good.
At the heart of it all, horoscopes are a way to balance the uncertainty of our daily lives, it helps make a semblance of things that just simply doesn’t make sense sometimes. Baggini better explains it in a quote saying, “If the best prediction you’ve got is still completely rubbish or baseless, it’s better than no prediction at all,” he then continued, “If you have no way of controlling the weather, you’ll continue to do incantations and dances, because the alternative is doing nothing. And people hate doing nothing.”
Feat image via theatlantic.com