Jonathan Brun

Horoscopes – Fact, Fiction, Who Cares

Why do people read their horoscopes? Comfort? Motivation? Is it dependent on personality types?

Recently I watched A Brave New World, based on the book by the same name written by Aldous Huxley in 1932. The (not so fictional) futuristic world has castes based on natural aptitudes, Alphas – the intelligent independent leaders, betas – the diligent workers and gammas, the labourers…

The categorization is done based on genetics and scarily enough, it fits with modern studies done by pioneer Jarome Kagan and the even more recent book by Judith Harris, “The Nurture Assumption”.

Today, such categorizations of personality types are common practice in HR offices. They help identify leaders, workers and thinkers. In a broad sense, they work.

So, is a specific type of person more likely to consult and believe in the daily horoscope? The book stumbling on happiness by Dan Gilbert (previously mentioned in this post) , which is largely based on the psycology of Danny Kahneman, people are shown to be irrational decision makers.

Decisions are made on a set of emotional reactions we have hard wired into us and some basic analysis of the situations. Variables in decisions (i.e. having more than one choice, or having the ability to go back on choices) leads all people (not a specific personality type) to be unhappy with their decision.

Emotions play a much greater importance in decision making than analytical thought. Therefore, perhaps horoscopes are efficient motivation tools BECAUSE they use emotions as the trigger for decisions, and don’t try to fight our natural tendancies.

In fact, one of the few studies on horoscopes states that they use:

Anxiety-generating threats were alternated with irrational promises of gain, an implied high socioeconomic status was juxtaposed against the ultimate dependence of the readers on forces beyond their control, and constant exhortations to extraverted adjustment were combined with recommendations to reject one’s past. The columns thereby appeared to be designed to generate dependence, helplessness, and blind obedience to authority in their consumers.

This falls into line with what makes people happy or satisfied with their decisions. The general combination of off-loading responsibility onto someone or something else and a false sense of empowerment lead to decision making. Humans, unlike deer, act when they are caught in the headlights.

So, if horoscopes make you happy, go for it, but try to use them to good ends – wait, that would be a rational decision on an emotional foundation!

Published on October 2, 2007