Stargazing or Astrology?
“For those of us who believe that forces greater than ourselves guide our lives, astrology is one place that could provide answers, direction and meaning.” – Ali Roff Farrar
Astrology has become extremely popular in recent years. But it has been around for thousands of years. Our ancestors have been looking at the stars to explain certain events, but the general interest in astrology has grown steadily over the past few decades, building the foundation for its peak of popularity today.
The Internet is Filled with Astrology
Nowadays the internet is awash with astrology related materials: from Instagram meme accounts all way to venture capital-backed astrology apps. According to Google trends, online interest in the UK in both ‘wellness’ and ‘horoscopes’ has doubled since 2010.
So, why does it seem like everyone is into astrology lately? Psychologists and other experts say there are many factors that may make horoscopes particularly appealing to some.Astrological information, even though illusory, helps the individual comprehend both the self and the world and it can be a coping mechanism during hard and stressful times.
People Want to Believe
Some argue that the last generations are not very religious, although this does not mean they abandoned religion, but rather they have made a spiritual shift. People, inherently, want to believe something, and are just feeling more comfortable expressing what some things work for them, specifically.
Astrology offers character descriptions that are deliberately very vague and positive, allowing people to read themselves into it very easily. This greatly influences and even validates a person’s self-concept, as well as increases their certainty about their personal attributes. Many individuals may be drawn to them because it can help them gain more clarity about themselves and articulate ideas that are difficult to put into words.
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This concept relates to self-awareness: those who are not aware of themselves might turn to astrology more. This could mean that people engage in astrology with the intention of knowing themselves better.
Astrology and Cognitive Biases
Astrology may also lead to a cognitive bias called the Barnum effect: people tend to use their own interpretations to fill in the gaps of those ambiguous astrological descriptions.
Psychologist Bernie I. Silverman conducted an experiment in which he presented subjects with 12 different star sign descriptions. They were not told which description corresponded with which sign. Silverman asked the subjects to choose the four which best represented them. They did not typically choose their own. However, when the descriptions were labelled with each of the star signs, there was a marked tendency for people to choose their own.
The Human Brain is Hard-Wired to Seek Certainty
Oftentimes, stress originates from uncertainty about future outcomes. In a way, the human brain is hard-wired to seek certainty — that’s why some people have the tendency to interpret and give structure to adverse life events. Astrology does not give definite answers, but it does seem that providing meaningful explanations of vague situations can increase someone’s sense of control over them. It can also provide reassurance, however illusory, about the future, bringing people great comfort and reducing their feelings of distress.
In a way, astrology could be seen as an anxiety-buffer that protects the individual from high-stress situations: this might also be an explanation to why there has been a high increase in horoscope believers during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, online searches for Zodiac signs and birth charts hit a five-year peak in 2020, according to Google Trends.
Sometimes people are even more likely to believe Barnum statements that supposedly come from mystical sources, such as fortune tellers or palm readers. We tend to be more intrigued by things that we cannot easily explain.
Of course, we can still enjoy reading our horoscopes – just don’t be surprised when they seem weirdly relatable.
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Marjaana Lindemann, Belief in astrology as a strategy for self-verification and coping with negative life-events, European Psychologist, 1998
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