153. Critical Thinking: How Personal and Subjective Validation Distorts Perception

06 takeaways from this video:

00:00:31 A few important points to remember from Ray Hyman’s previous lecture How to Convince People You Know Them Very, Very Intimately:

00:12:00 In 1944, Professor Bertram Forer went to a local newspaper stand, cut the following sentences out of a generic astrology magazine and then presented them to a classroom as the subjective, individualized and detailed results of a “comprehensive personality profile:”

“You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.

You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.”

The result: An overwhelming majority of the students who received this “personalized” personality result:

  • Rated the “comprehensive personality test” as excellent.
  • Rated the results of their “comprehensive personality test” as individualized and accurate.

00:18:45 Magicians, tricksters and con artists never work alone; his audience assists him. If the trickster does his job and performs well, the audience actually wants to be fooled because humans like to believe certain things are true.

If you take the time to research and set people up right, you can tell an intelligent person just about anything you want and they will reinterpret it and convince themselves that they believe it and that it applies perfectly to them.

If the person wants to believe you, they will find a way to.

Humans consistently fall for these generic systems and universally applicable statements as individualized and subjective because, Forer reasons, psychologically humans have a need to obtain some degree of power and control over their lives, and through feeling as though they know more about themselves, they have the feeling they have more control over their lives.

The problem is that science and skeptics are usually viewed as trying to “take something away” from people that want or need something to be able to hold on to, and not giving something in return. Perhaps the more important question to address is “what are humans searching for?”

You can’t prove that Santa Clause doesn’t exist; you cannot prove a negative. But you can study and determine that it is not very likely to be true. That’s the best you can do.

00:23:44 Remember (from Ray Hyman’s lecture How & When to Override The Autonomous Mind) that the principle of charity is the idea that when you are attacking a claim or an opponent, etc., don’t attack your opponent’s argument at it’s worst; attack his or her argument at it’s best. Aim to reformulate your opponent’s claim in the strongest way possible before you address it, attack it, or destroy it. Doing this not only increases the credibility of your reputation for objectiveness and fairness, it also take away the from the strength of any rebuttle your opponent may have to your logical argument.

00:25:30 There are two types of skeptics:

  1. Those who have always grown up questioning and doubting a system
  2. Those who were raised to believe the system and later become skeptics

Likewise, there are cases where skeptics flip and become believers of a system, for example a devout, militant athiest who converts to Catholicism.

00:52:20 The fallacy of personal validation, also called the Barnum effect and the Forer effect, states 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. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, fortune telling, graphology, aura reading and some types of personality tests.”

Subjective validation, closely related to the fallacy of personal validation, is “a cognitive bias by which a person will consider a statement or another piece of information to be correct if it has any personal meaning or significance to them. In other words, a person whose opinion is affected by subjective validation will perceive two unrelated events (i.e., a coincidence) to be related because their personal belief demands that they be related.”

In summary, recalling that as much as 97% of psychic readers truly, honestly believe they have a powerful gift of fortune telling, it’s not hard for the fortune-teller to come to this conclusion when the people having their fortune read want the fortune-teller’s reading to be true, and so reinterpret everything said to them so that it becomes true and retrospectively offer accolades of the fortune-teller’s success, thus becoming the subjective validation the fortune-teller needs to become convinced of his or her special psychic abilities.

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