Around 70 million Americans read their horoscopes daily. 25% of Americans believe that the position of the stars and the planets affect their lives.
Astrology is defined as the belief that the positions of the stars and planets at the time of your birth are the reasons why you’re impatient and short-tempered. That you were a water sign and he was a fire sign is the reason why your last relationship imploded.
On the surface, astrology sounds like a bunch of baloney, but it is founded on understanding the positions of celestial bodies, which may seem scientific in itself, but the notion that the position of a star or planet affects one's personality seems altogether ludicrous. And yet I still somehow find myself flipping to the horoscope section of my Sunday newspaper.
The question here is why are we as humans so intrigued and so inclined to believe something as banal and generic as horoscopes?
The answer is simple. The fear of the unknown. Life is too unpredictable, to jump in without a map. And sometimes, a wrong map is better than no map at all.
Another reason is emotional validation. Our feelings that may seem inexplicable or irrational often get validated. We like to associate ourselves with good traits like kindness, empathy, assertiveness. On the other hand knowing we aren't the only ones who're impulsive, indecisive, and so on provides a certain sense of relief.
Now, why are these horoscopes so believable? For example:
"Sometimes you feel as if you carry the weight of the world on your back. You tend to be overly critical of yourself. Things are changing but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. You have a lot of untapped potential that can be used to your advantage."
Did that just make sense? Welcome to the Forer effect. It is a common psychological phenomenon where individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, yet which are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.
While reading a horoscope, people actively seek a correspondence between its contents and their perception of their personality. This phenomenon is called subjective acceptance.
Now we know why our horoscope feels real. Another reason people would want to believe it is because it explains how we relate to other people in terms of our significant personality traits.
It gives us a language to compare and contrast different types of behaviors and personalities. It drives the idea that we're not alone and we're less different from other people than we thought.
While there's nothing more scientists enjoy than making fun of astrology, a group of researchers took it upon themselves to find aspects of astrology that were scientifically grounded.
A circadian neuroscientist from Oxford spent years studying how seasons affect your body. It's one of astrology's core ideas. For example, Schizophrenia is more common among people born in January, February, and March, aka if you're a Pisces like me, you're likely to be imaginative in more ways than one.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common among people born in March and April. That explains why Aries' are so moody. Down syndrome is more likely to occur in people born in June, July, and August.
Whether it is the physiological changes that occur in your mother's body during the time you were conceived or whether it is changes occurring as a result of feeding on breast milk, there is definitely a statistical correlation between when you're born to a whole range of parameters.
Astrology can tell us about how natural rhythms can affect our health. When you're born can affect parameters ranging from your lifespan to your height and weight. Your birth season affects significant aspects of your personality and even your likelihood of developing an eating disorder or a mental illness.
So astrology isn't ALL BS. Interesting.But we shouldn't be asking the question if astrology is real or not. What we should be asking is, does it help people?
In the way that psychics, tarot card readers, palm readers, etc., scam vulnerable and desperate people out of their money, then no astrology does not help at all.
But in the way that it helps us reflect on our emotional well-being and our relationships, helps us feel more connected to each other and the universe, provides a sense of direction when we're lost, then yes, astrology is not as bad as it seems. The ancient Babylonians used astrology to predict eclipses; while the millennials of today check their horoscope on BuzzFeed. Oh, that reminds me, I'm going to go read my horoscope for the day.