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Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Forer graduated from University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1936. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from University of California, Los Angeles.
He served as a psychologist and administrator in a military hospital in France during World War II. Upon return he worked in a Veterans Administration mental clinic in Los Angeles; and in private practice in Malibu, California.
In his classic 1948 experiment, Forer administered a personality test to his students. Rather than scoring the tests and giving individual assessments, he gave all the students the exact same analysis copied from a newspaper astrology column. The students were then asked to evaluate the description on a scale of zero through five, with five being the most accurate. The average evaluation was 4.26. The experiment has been repeated hundreds of times since 1948, and the average remains about 4.2.
The Forer effect shows that people tend to accept generalised descriptions of their personalities without realising that the same evaluation could apply to nearly anyone else, because people want the results to be true. This experiment is frequently cited as criticisms of other personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
- Forer BR (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 44, 118-123.
- Forer BR (1968). Personal validation and the person. Psychol Rep. 1968 Dec;23(3):1214. PMID 5717433
- Forer BR, Farberow NL, Meter MM, Tolman RS (1952). Consistency and agreement in the judgment of Rorschach signs. J Proj Tech. 1952 Sep;16(3):346-51. PMID: 14946755
- Death notice UMasssMag, Winter 2001.
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