(Hosting a tarot card reading video for magician Rick Lax)
Months ago, my boyfriend posted a video of himself giving a tarot card reading on his entertainer page. It’s important to note that he does not believe in tarot AT ALL, or claim any “real” magic powers…he is an entertainer. And in the video description, he clearly states, “If you have questions about this video or are worried about anything I said, Google the Barnum Effect”.
Here is what it says on Google about the Barnum Effect:
The Barnum effect, also called the Forer effect, is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.
Basically, he made a tarot reading video that LOOKED like it was made just for the person consuming it. Also, he gave the audience enough information to figure out that it wasn’t real.
But human beings are always going to be human beings. How many people do you think left him comments and messages asking what he charges for personal readings, because their minds were blown, and the reading was “spot on”?
Hundreds. Hundreds of people, who were given a breadcrumb trail that they ignored.
Some folks will metaphorically buy anything makes them feel secure or gives them direction. And there many in the world just WAITING to take advantage of that fear (luckily my guy is as scrupulous as they come, and always reminds them outright that he is an Entertainer, NOT a shaman or a mind-reader).
A few weeks later, he made another video, this time with me as the host. We wanted to make it ABSOLUTELY CRYSTAL CLEAR that we were using the principal of the Barnum Effect, so the entire second half of the video is me reiterating to the viewer that every single person who watched this on Facebook is watching the same video, and that they are in NO WAY “personally tailored”.
I say to the audience:
“As we move into the second part of the reading, did you feel like this video was a better fit for you, specifically, than it might be to your friends? Remember, I only made one specific video and all of your friends are watching it.
I’m not saying this to make you feel dumb…I’m saying it to empower you. Let me explain.
Regardless of what you believe, or I believe…there’s one thing we can both agree on. There is a ton of stuff in this world that we cannot explain. But the world is FILLED with people who claim to understand it. And it doesn’t mean we should believe them. Just because something sounds right doesn’t mean it’s right. It just means that someone has an Internet connection, and they want to try to convince you of something.
Personally, I take a lot of meaning out of the signs and symbols around me. A lot of people do. It helps us make order of the world around us, and process it in a way we can understand. There isn’t anything wrong with that.
The trouble comes when people try to take advantage of other people using those signs and symbols. And that’s NOT okay.
So…think for yourself, search out the truth, and if this video got you thinking….share it with your friends. Who knows, maybe it will get them thinking too.”
Guess how many messages I got asking what I charge for a personal reading?
There just aren’t enough Facepalms.
One woman wrote to me sounding positively desperate, filling line after line with information about her ex-husband in jail, financial troubles, and begging to know what was going to happen to her daughter. With the library of information she wrote me, I could have EASILY told her “what was going to happen” because she basically gave me every scrap I would have needed before I needed it. She was ready to hand over her credit card.
I wrote her a gentle email explaining that the video was intended to disprove our “abilities”, and to please take care of herself and save her money.
Honestly, my entire experience with the Barnum Effect really bummed me out, like when Ralphie from A Christmas Story waits for weeks for his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring, only to find that the message is an advertisement. I have been that kid; we have all been that kid.
But at least I left the “bathroom” a little wiser.
That's NOT to say that I no longer believe in the existence of myriad unseen things. I have always maintained that the existence of “smoke and mirrors” is hardly proof that all magic is fake. My own intuition is as real to me as electricity, yet I could explain neither phenomenon...and when my intuition is wrong and I get a little "shock", that only helps me sharpen my understanding of its properties.
I'd argue that my intuition is developing beautifully.