Note 5 Barnum experiments

In the section devoted to 'Barnum statements' I mentioned that psychologists have studied the Barnum Effect. Summaries of at least two such studies appear in Ray Hyman's article, 'Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers that You Know All About Them' which was published in The Zetetic, Spring/Summer 1977'. Among other studies, Hyman refers to:

- Forer, B.R. 1949. 'The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A Classroom Demonstration of Gullibility.' Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 44: 118-23.

- Snyder, C.R. and R.J. Shenkel 1975, 'The Barnum Effect', Psychology Today 8: 52:54.

'The Zetetic' was the original name of the journal which changed its name to 'The Skeptical Inquirer'.

In the previous editions of this book, I wrote that I did not know the origin of the term 'Barnum Statement'. Julien Nino got in touch to provide what may well be the answer. He sent me an extract from 'The American Psychologist', Vol 11., No.6, June 1956. In an article entitled 'Wanted - A Good Cookbook', Paul E Meehl writes, "Many psychometric reports bear a disconcerting resemblance to what my colleague Donald G. Paterson calls 'personality description after the manner of P.T. Barnum'. I suggest - and I am quite serious - that we adopt the phrase 'Barnum effect' to stigmatize those pseudo-successful clinical procedures in which personality descriptions from tests are made to fit the patient largely or wholly by virtue of their triviality".

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