As we all know, there’s a lot of pseudoscience floating around out there today. Some people think the Earth is flat, and some people think it began 6,000 years ago. Some think vaccines cause autism, and some think that human-caused climate change is a hoax. And some people think that their being born in January makes them exceptionally sexually compatible with a person born in June. To each their own, I guess. Although I don’t believe in astrology, I can’t help but thinking that compared with beliefs like climate change denial, it’s not horribly harmful. Just silly.
Earlier this year, I saw this video by Mr. Atheist in which he responds to an astrology-believing YouTuber named Kendall Rae. In her video, Kendall was going through the commonly known traits of a Pisces, to which Jimmy, a Pisces, responded, basically confirming or denying whether those traits actually applied to him. In the beginning of the video, Jimmy explained that astrology, like psychic reading, involves something called the Barnum effect, which is, according to Wikipedia, “a common psychological phenomenon whereby individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, that are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.”
The Barnum effect
A common trait that could fall under the category of the Barnum effect might be “You love to be around people, but sometimes, you really need to recharge with some alone time.” One could read this and immediately think, “Oh my god. That’s me.” But if you look at it more closely, this statement could apply to introverts, extroverts, and those who find themselves teetering in between. Everyone needs some social interaction sometimes, and even the most outgoing people need a day alone sometimes.
Another method used by astrologers would be to say “Well, if this trait doesn’t really fit you as your sun sign, it might be more influenced by your moon sign or your rising sign. Or you could more reflect the sign that comes before or after yours on the calendar if you were born towards the beginning or end of that sign’s cycle. It’s not an exact science.” In essence, anyone could be anything. If a Capricorn trait (my sun sign) doesn’t fit me, maybe a Pisces trait (my moon sign) or a Leo trait (my rising sign) would. Or maybe a Sagittarius trait would, as I was born towards the beginning of the Capricorn cycle. It makes it very easy to take my entire personality, and pick and choose.
What sign should I actually be?
I think that astrology is more fun to disprove than things like creationism. Watching people try to justify their belief that ancient Homo sapiens rode on dinosaurs isn’t anything but frustrating. But learning about why astrology is bunk can be fun, because it allows me to introspect and think about who I am as I see just how much or how little I resemble what a Capricorn is supposed to be.
For example, before writing this post, I took four different quizzes to see if various websites could guess my zodiac sign based off of my personality. Well, Buzzfeed thought I was an Aries, How Stuff Works thought I was a Leo, TheQuiz.com thought I was an Aquarius, and Psychtests.com thought I was a Virgo.
I came across the following type of Instagram post a few times from ThredUP, an online consignment shop that I buy from and sell to. (The fact that they share silly things on Instagram doesn’t really detract from their mission to save the planet!) I don’t know why, but I think it’s so fun to see just how wrong these little posts can be about what I like.
Like Mr. Atheist, I also wanted to see what Kendall Rae had to say about Capricorns, so I watched her video on them (or us, I guess). I had also spent an embarrassing amount of time Googling the traits of a Capricorn, so I feel like I know more than I would ever want to.
First of all, I find it funny that since Capricorns are Earth signs (whatever that means), we tend to get on well with other Earth signs, which are Virgos and Tauruses. Well, my husband is neither of those (or a Cancer, for that matter), but my cat, if you must know, is a Virgo. That must explain why we get along. And as for my husband and me, it looks like we have shockingly made it work even when the stars have, quite literally, not aligned. (He’s a Leo, whose entire personality could not be further from what a Leo is supposed to be.)
According to Kendall, I share a star sign with not only Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin, but also Michelle Obama and Jake Paul. I know. It’s uncanny. (I also found out that I share a birthday with Johannes Kepler, so that’s cool.)
Do I fit in with the Capricorns?
The most accurate thing that was said was that Capricorns tend to be skeptical, we demand evidence, proof, and reason, and we aren’t prone to believing in astrology in the first place. Kendall said that this was especially true if your moon sign is one of the water signs, which mine is. Like I said, a broken clock’s right twice a day.
It can be easy to fall for and get caught up in a seemingly (sometimes freakishly) accurate claim that someone makes in astrology. In many ways, most prominently in the case of having a skeptical nature, I felt like the general personality of a Capricorn fit me pretty well. Capricorns tend to be well stocked with random knowledge (I know about 300 digits of pi that I could recite if you really wanted me to), and they’re practical, independent, logical, determined, stoic, and easily annoyed. I am all of these things.
What you don’t know, though, is that I just picked through my list that I gleaned from the traits listed in Kendall’s video which fit me. I’m also supposed to be stubborn, good at math, preachy, and traditional. Capricorns are known to struggle with addiction (I don’t), get drunk at parties (I drink responsibly, but I don’t go to parties), and spend money just to treat themselves to fancy things (not me at all). We’re not supposed to not be flaky (I kind of am), seek validation from others (I don’t), and be very emotionally and mentally strong as I go through a lot of challenges in my life, which will cause me to change a lot as I get older.
That last one was very interesting to me, and it was emphasized a lot in Kendall’s video. The great majority of the stress in my life that I’ve gone through is chronicled for you here on this site, so you can see for yourself if it is what this girl says it is. But comparatively, I think my life is pretty good, especially now that I’m out of college and married. I’m pretty turmoil-free right now. But saying “You’ve gone through a lot and it’s making you a stronger person” can definitely fall under the Barnum effect, as you could say it to anyone and there will be something they can point to and say that you’re absolutely right.
Are personality tests better?
Although they’re not perfect, I highly prefer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to zodiac signs. I’ve taken the test a few times, and I’ve gotten INTJ and INFJ—the “thinking” and “feeling” traits are about equal. I know there is some science behind why this doesn’t work, because no one can just be categorized by which side they land on (often barely) within these four traits. It’s determined by a series of questions as opposed to any scientific tests, and your answers will always be biased because you’re answering about yourself. But that’s more than one could say about astrology.
I thought it would be interesting to see what my Myers-Briggs type would be if it was based off of someone’s perception of me rather than my own, so I asked my husband to take the test about me. There were some times when I would have answered things differently than he did, and it showed when we got the results: this time, I was an ISFJ. Apparently, my husband sees me as more observant whereas I see myself as more intuitive. This means that I think I’m more imaginative, but he thinks I’m more objective with the information around me. I’ve always been on the edge of thinking and feeling, which sounds about accurate, but means that any personality type I get doesn’t convey the whole story.
As for whether the last letter is J for judging or P for prospecting, I’ve always gotten J, although in this case it was only 53%. Any time I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test, I’ve struggled with the questions that determine this: “Do you like to plan things out or act spontaneously?” “Are you focused on your long-term goals or do you like to just live in the moment?” I don’t know. It always depends. Although Myers-Briggs thinks I always have everything planned out beforehand.
As a matter of fact, every trait that this test gave me was within 5% of being half-and-half—except the I. I was (and am, and always will be) 97% introverted, but I didn’t need to take a test to tell me that. Not shockingly (considering that you have a 50% chance of guessing right), Capricorns are said to be primarily introverted. But we’re also “ruled” by the planet Saturn (…okay?) and by our skeletons, knees, and joints. So I’m supposed to have either really good knees or really bad knees. My knees are fine.
I hope I’ve demonstrated for you that astrology really is, at bottom, a lot of nonsense and guessing.